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  • Writer's pictureSusan McHugh


This appears to be a big topic of conversation with the men and women I talk to. I actually spoke to a large group of people in the hair/cosmetic/spa industry in Aspen, CO., a couple of years ago on exactly this topic. They were as confused as many people are about what to say. They always asked “How are you feeling?” and guess what their responses were? Next statement, “You look great” and the client was thinking (‘not so much’ or 'are you crazy’)

A lot of what I am talking about here came directly from Cancer Net.

Each person with cancer is different and we all need to be sensitive to that. Here are some suggestions for showing your support:

1. Ask permission before visiting, before giving advice, before asking questions and make it very clear that saying “no” is okay.

2. Make flexible plans that can be easily changed in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule.

3. Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future—this gives your friend something positive to look forward to. Be careful not to come across as pushy or demanding.

4. Allow for sadness - do not ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings.

5. Make time for a weekly check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling and also let your friend know that it is okay not to answer the phone.

6. Offer to help with specific tasks, such as babysitting children or pets, or preparing a meal. Many people find it hard to ask for help and your friend will appreciate the offer. However, if your friend declines the offer, do not take it personally,

7. Follow through on a commitment to help.

8. Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship—treat him or her the same way you always have.

9. Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer—people going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the cancer.

Things to AVOID saying:

I know how you feel

You need to talk

I know just what you should do

I feel helpless

I don’t know how you manage

I’m sure you’ll be fine

Don’t worry

How much time do the doctor’s give you?

Let me know what I can do (offer specific ways you can help or other things you can do if they need it)

What you CAN say:

I’m sorry this happened to you

If you ever feel like talking, I’m here to listen

How can I help

I care about you

I’m thinking about you

I don’t know what to say (It is better to be honest than to just stop calling or visiting out of fear)

I realize that this is not directed to the cancer patient—it is directed to their friends, family and others. I remember when I was going through treatment friends asking me how I was feeling (just great); telling me how great I looked (bald, pale—are you kidding me?); I’m sure you’ll be fine (When did you get your medical degree?) and so on.

I would very much appreciate your feedback:

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Would you, as a someone going through treatment, share some of this Blog with your friends?

Would you like to see more Blogs like this?

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