We’ve all had those moments where we struggle to think of the right thing to say that offers comfort or support to someone facing a crisis. And if that crisis is a recent cancer diagnosis, it can be very hard to navigate between what is, and is not, helpful.
Firstly, I want to say thank you to everyone who has sent thoughtful, encouraging words and to those who’ve given money via our GoFundMe – we still need help so donating if you can or sharing the fundraiser would be amazing! We are trying to process everything so it’s still very new and difficult to talk about — especially since we found out a few days ago that my husband’s cancer is Stage 4 and the urgent surgery he needs cannot be carried out in our local area — nothing is ever easy, right?
We are scared. We are not sleeping well. We are weighed down and we are emotional, but the kindness and care already given to us has been a much-needed source of strength and comfort. Don’t underestimate the positive impact your words can have — you really can make a difference in someone’s day.
So what should you say to someone who is fighting cancer?
Be positive … but be realistic. Try and avoid telling someone they will be fine or that everything will be okay — you have no way of knowing that and you may not be aware of all the challenges being faced. The most real comfort you can give is to tell someone that this situation is awful but that you believe in them. Tell someone you’re thinking of them and are hoping for a good outcome. Let them know that you see how hard things are but you have faith in their ability to fight it.
When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too. | Paulo Coelho – The Alchemist
Offer help … but be specific. Many people will never ask for help even if they really need it out of concern they’ll be a burden or take up your time/energy. If you really want to be of assistance and are able to follow through, it’s better to suggest explicit help rather than leaving it to them to reach out. If you’re heading to the grocery store, ask if they need some supplies — or just turn up, like my landlady did (she’s amazing) with a few bags of staple items. If you’re going off to walk your dog and they have children or a dog of their own offer to take them out with you, etc. You get the idea!
Share knowledge … but not anecdotes. If you have personal, direct experience of a particular charity, society or service that was of great use during a cancer diagnosis and/or treatment or is applicable to someone who is going through all this, then sharing this kind of practical advice could be invaluable to someone who is looking for some information or extra support. If you only have anecdotal advice or theories about treatments, it’s best to err on the side of caution and keep all of that to yourself. Anecdotes are not useful because cancer is not a one-size-fits-all disease and you don’t want to give false hope to someone who is facing something this serious.
Say anything … but be thoughtful. If you really are lost for words and can’t decide what is best to say when you find out someone has cancer, you can’t really go wrong with just wishing that person all the best and telling them that you are thinking about them. You don’t need to worry you aren’t saying enough because just knowing that some people are wishing you or your loved one better times and that they are in your corner is a wonderful feeling.
The most comforting support my husband and I have received so far has been the type of help that lets us know we’re not alone, and that even though we feel like we’re drowning, there are people around us who will not let us sink.
The American Cancer Society provides services and financial support, including information about insurance resources, such as Medicaid for low-income families, accommodation assistance during treatments and many other helpful tools.