It’s World Cancer Day and someone you know has had a cancer diagnosis.
Not only are you shaken, but this is all new, and you want to be sure to support them in the right way.
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who has been diagnosed, which is why so many of us struggle with how to be there for them, talk to them and provide the right kind of care without smothering them or saying or doing the wrong thing.
Here are a few tips:
DO let them follow their own schedule. Chemotherapy and radiation involve no physical exertion yet they can leave you feeling exhausted. So if they need an afternoon nap and it interferes with other plans you might have, that’s too bad.
DON’T tell them they are looking well. Cancer is not like measles – it doesn’t bring you out in spots. Some types of chemotherapy can actually make your skin look amazing. Cancer may not show on the outside but be in no doubt, people who have cancer are not well. And they know it.
DO assure them, over and over, that their treatment side effects are temporary. Kiss the bald head of someone who has lost their hair because of chemotherapy and gently remind them it will grow back. Go help them choose a wig – or several – and encourage them to be wonderfully creative with scarves and hats. If they don’t want any of those, they can show off a beautifully-shaped head and neck.
DON’T wear a permanent “you poor thing” expression of pity on your face. A cancer patient does not need to be constantly reminded that they are seriously ill, with all that might imply. Nor do they want to feel like a victim.
DO take your lead from the person who has cancer when it comes to talking about it. Some find comfort in talking about it a lot, others don’t want to give it any more head space than they have to. Respect their wishes.
DON’T forget that whatever else is going on, people with cancer still have a life to live, so help them live it to the fullest, whatever that might be.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.