When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, it is very common to want to jump in and help. This is especially true if you have known the person for a long time or if you have had an experience with cancer in your family. After all, cancer is so prevalent these days that most of us know someone who has personally dealt with the disease. Our first reaction is to figure out what we can do to help. Unfortunately, even the best-intentioned friend tends to do or say things that aren’t helpful and can be a hindrance to the person they are trying to help.
Here are a few things we should stop doing to cancer patients.
1.) Avoid the overused sayings
Saying things like “Everything happens for a reason” or “God never gives you more than you can handle” may sound cute and encouraging, but they aren’t. Cancer is most likely the worst thing that has ever happened to this person. These sayings can backfire and end up hurting their feelings in the long run. Saying that everything happens for a reason implies that cancer is a good thing. I can tell you from personal experience that being hooked up to a chemo drip while puking into a trash can, doesn’t seem like some grand plan in life. If God never gives you more than you can handle, then that means he gave you cancer. I think it’s pretty easy to see why that would be a harmful thought.
The reality of cancer is that there is nothing you can say that will help. What most cancer patients need is someone willing to listen. They need someone to hear their worries, their fears, and to be a shoulder to cry on. Instead, offer to pray with them. Supply them with good books to read, podcasts to listen to, and things that will encourage them along the way. You don’t need to have the right words. Just be there.
2.) Don’t be overbearing
We all know that person — the one who never stops bugging you. Constantly calling, coming over, bringing things by the house, the one that makes you want to close the blinds and hide until they go away. We know you mean well. For a person who is already feeling ill, having to deal with someone who doesn’t get the “can I get five minutes of peace” hint can be way too much to handle. When you don’t feel well, you don’t feel like entertaining. Instead of assuming the person wants you around all the time, try asking what they actually need? You wouldn’t think this, but after abdominal surgery for ovarian cancer, what I needed was someone to scrub my bathroom. I couldn’t bend to properly clean the toilet and tub shower. Do they need help cleaning the house or doing the grocery shopping? Do they need someone to help prepare a few meals for their family? Maybe they don’t need anything at all. Sometimes what a person needs is space, and you being overbearing can be more difficult than you think.
3.) Don’t ignore the cancer
You don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to do. Which means it’s easy to fall back on the last problem — ignoring they are sick altogether. Yes, most people don’t want to dwell on being ill. They want a few hours or a few days where they don’t have to think about it. However, there is nothing worse than being around someone who doesn’t see your suffering at all. They talk about everything except the cancer, which makes it even more obvious that they are trying to avoid the topic. It is uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes even painful. Cancer is a reality in their lives and pretending it doesn’t exist won’t make it go away. Instead, ask how they are and wait for an actual answer. Don’t rely on the fake smile and standard “I’m fine.” How are they doing from an emotional standpoint?
If you are a cancer survivor, what are some things you wish people hadn’t done during your experience with cancer? Was there anything that upset you? Or were there things you found helpful?