Don’t try to be a fortune cookie when someone gives you bad news. At least with a fortune cookie, you still get to eat the cookie if you get shitty advice. We are often uncomfortable when someone is pain. We want to help them, to ease their burden. We think that by giving advice to someone with cancer (e.g., don’t eat sugar; go vegan; eat organic; pray more; find your inner yogi) that it might help. Or when we dish out advice, we want to be right because if we are wrong, then it makes us vulnerable. For some people they feel protected by doing things a certain way. If I remove meat from my diet, I won’t get cancer. If I go to church regularly, God won’t give me cancer. A lot of advice comes from a good place such as giving the pep talk of, “I know you’ll get through this” or “You’re so optimistic. You have the personality to beat this.” But unless you have super awesome psychic powers to predict the future or think that only crabby people die from cancer, you are sadly mistaken.
Sometimes people respond by not giving out advice. Thank you! But their responses can be sometimes weird or morbid. Some responses are just plain weird when people say, “You’re too young to have cancer” or “You’re too happy to have cancer.” I’m still unsure about how to respond to these. The more morbid responses are when people say, “My aunt had that cancer. She died.” Is there any good that comes from bringing that up? No. Just zip it please and thank you.
What could I SAY then if someone tells me that they have cancer? Less is more.
- That sucks.
- That fucking sucks.
- That really fucking sucks.
- I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.
- Nothing. Hug them. Silence is okay.
What can I DO when someone has cancer? Lots! Don’t just say that you’re here if they need you or ask them what you can help with. Be proactive. People with cancer often don’t want to burden others. They may not ask even though they need your help. Here are some ideas:
- Drop off a care package.
- Make them freezer meals.
- Clean their house.
- Play with their kids and pets.
- Offer to help with jobs around the house (e.g., fix something that’s broken).
- Shovel their driveway/mow their lawn.
- Clean their car.
- Ask them what they need from the grocery store. Deliver groceries.