When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, we often struggle to find the right words. Here are some helpful tips for saying what you really mean, when it matters most.
Offer heartfelt words of support
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they may be experiencing feelings of sadness, confusion and fear. Try, however hard, not to heighten those feelings with prying questions, declarations of your own sadness or unsolicited advice. Instead, offer heartfelt words of support. Something like, "I'm so sorry to hear your news. Please know that I love you and I'm here for you" is a simple, straightforward way to be there for your friend or family member.
Follow their lead
Once you've reached out, let them set the tone. Everyone deals with cancer differently. You may have a friend who wants to continue living as normally as possible. If that's the case, talk to them about the same topics you would have done prior to diagnosis. On the other hand, you may have a family member who wants to share how they're feeling, discuss doctors’ visits and talk about their fears with you. If that's the case, be a good listener and try to offer words of encouragement. Either way, let them lean on you in whatever way works for them. Remaining positive is really important, so any feelings of confusion and sadness should be shared with someone other than the person affected.
Be specific in your offer to help
A cancer diagnosis comes with life-disrupting appointments, unexpected bouts of exhaustion and other issues that can make managing day-to-day life a challenge. It can also be hard to know how to enlist help from family and friends. Take the pressure off them by offering very specific ways you'd like to help. For example, don't say something vague, such as "Let me know how I can help." Instead, try something like "I'd like to make a meal for you and your family. Is there a good night this week to drop it off?" Or, "It sounds like you've been tired after treatments. May I take your daughter to the park on Wednesday afternoon, so you can get some rest?" This allows the patient to accept help without having to think about how and when you can help them. Another way to assist is by using the free ByYourSide™ app, which allows supporters to select specific ways they can help – whether it’s childcare, scheduled visits, errands or chores, and the patient can notify you when they're in need.
Keep the communication going
Cancer is a stressful experience that can lead to a person feeling isolated. If you decide to reach out, it is important to continue to offer support to your loved one, so they feel cared for. You can do this by regularly calling and texting them, writing them notes and visiting them (but not unannounced). Keep up those offers of specific help. You could even send them small gifts or flowers to brighten their day and let them know you are thinking of them. One thing to keep in mind – don't expect a response every time you contact them. Someone going through treatment may be too tired to respond to a text or write a thank you note. But know that the sincere messages they receive from friends and family go a long way in helping them feel supported during this difficult time.