It’s as important to know what not to say to cancer patients as well as what to say! They’re dealing with a lot of emotion and need to stay focused on their recovery and their health. Here are some tips to help you and your family stay on track:
1. Don’t tell them you know how they feel, because you don’t. That’s true for any situation really. We all process experiences differently, and each cancer case is different — we need to realize and remember that.
2. Don’t ask them when they’ll be cured or what their chances are. No one knows this for sure and they need to stay focused on their own health and recovery, not statistics that they have no control over.
3. Don’t say that someone else you know had the same type of cancer. Every situation is different, and it just distances you from what they are going through.
4. Don’t encourage them to feel a certain way. Their moods will swing, and you need to just respect where they are. When someone says “be positive” they’re not listening to where the other person is coming from.
5. Don’t offer your sympathy….that’s not what they need. They need your help, love, and support. Don’t say, “It is so terrible” or “It’s such a shame.” Do say, “We’re going to do everything we can to try to get you healthy again” …. and mean it!
6. Don’t just focus on the cancer when you talk to them. Remember, they are still more than just their cancer….and they may very well want or need a break from talking about it!
7. Never say anything that is not a fact. For example, never say “I know you are going to get well.” You can’t possibly know that and the patient realizes it. Therefore, anything else you say after that will be ignored. However, it is certainly possible to state the same comment in a positive way. “It’s very serious, but we’re going to do everything in our power to beat it” is an example. Just tell the truth as you know it today.
8. Don’t offer any theories on why they got cancer. No one knows for sure, and it certainly doesn’t help anything at this point. Just help them to move forward.
9. Don’t be judgmental. The treatment decisions are ultimately up to them, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s hard to be so involved and not have the final word, but the sooner you realize that, the easier it will be for everyone. They’re the ones that need to live with their own decisions.
10. Don’t forget to laugh! This will always help make everyone feel better!
Jayne Hutchinson was immersed into a new world after her husband was diagnosed with cancer. She found there was little information and support available for spouses and partners. She created the My Loved One Has Cancer web site to fill that gap.