Things You Should and Should NOT Say to a Person With Cancer

help people with cancer

First off, you’re an awesome person. You’re reading this because someone you know is touched by cancer and you want to know how to avoid hackneyed phrases and suggestions which tick them off. As a person who recently finished treatment for cancer (Hodgkins Lymphoma) and a physician, I’m happy to take you through a brief tour of 10 things not to say:

10) How are you feeling?

How do you think they feel? They have cancer! How would you feel?! Next!

9) Have you tried praying?

Really? Now is the time you want to proclaim your faith? I write this as a person who believes in God: keep your personal beliefs to yourself. Not the time for missionary work.

8) Have you tried yoga/natural health products/getting rid of your cellphone to cure yourself?

Maybe it’s just me as a physician, but they’re probably on chemotherapy. Whatever your particular gripes are with the pharmaceutical companies (and you do have a point) chemotherapy has been trialed on tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of patients. The effects have been studied in depth. I received four rounds of ABVD chemotherapy because I believe in science and unlike yoga/kale/being gluten-free, it actually has been proven to cure my type of cancer.

7) Are you going to lose your hair?

Yes, most of us lose our hair. But thanks to Breaking Bad, Walter White cancer chic is in. Rock it with pride.

6) Have you heard from (insert ex-lover or ex-friend here)?

Is this the best time to remind someone that the love they probably cultivated for years or the friends they once were close to didn’t reach out to them? No. No it isn’t.

5) How are your parents/kids doing?

The whole family is so excited I have cancer! Said no one, ever. But, seriously what are they going to tell you other than everyone is doing the best they can?

4) We should go out for dinner/clubbing/take a trip!

Hmm, restaurants and clubs are usually no-nos. Think infection control: where can I take this person where there are a small number of people, none of them children, and for a short time that breaks up the monotony of their house/bed rest?

3) Think positive/read The Secret

Is thinking positive and cultivating a happy and balanced outlook important to people with cancer? Absolutely. Is telling someone else to think positive even the slightest bit helpful? Not at all. And don’t get me started on The Secret.

2) You can beat this. You’re strong.

People don’t die of cancer because they’ve “lost the fight.” That’s an incredibly simplistic way of looking at it. People die of cancer because their tumor burden is simply too high and sometimes chemotherapy is ineffective depending on the type of cancer. This has nothing to do with their will to live, or their personal character, or how much suffering they’ve experienced.

1) You’ll be fine.

Are you this person’s physician? Are you just saying this because you want them to be fine but really know that no one knows how this is all going to play out? I hope so. I hope you face up to the reality that I did: that no one knows or has control over what happens in the course of any serious illness. Pretending everything is going to be fine is ridiculous and yes, condescending.

Hey! Now that this list is over, thanks for reading it. If you’ve said one of these phrases before, don’t sweat it; you’re at least one of the people who is trying to care about someone, so that makes you pretty great. What else can we ask for beyond someone trying to reach out to us? I’m the last person to actually give people a hard time over awkward but well-meaning phrases.

In the end, the most important thing to say to a person with cancer is anything at all. Because the isolation from cancer is sometimes the worst part of the disease. But here are my tips on a few good places to start:

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: The Huffington Post
Dr. Nikhil Joshi

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