Being told that you have cancer is one of the hardest moments in your life. However, being with a friend and mentor who was just informed that they have cancer is just as difficult to hear.
Moments after being told that my friend has cancer, I instinctively said to him, "I am with you all the way". I knew it was the right statement to say. It was timely. Genuine. Tactful.
During my treatment there were family and friends who uttered such beautiful words to me that not only did their comments uplift my spirits at the right moment, but gave me a new sense of hope. I cherished their loving words, especially the cards and notes that I've received. However, though sincerely innocent with well-intentions, some people have said the weirdest and ill-judged statements, like "The best way to cure cancer is eat cottage cheese."
So, what do you say to a cancer patient an/or survivor?
Here are some of my favorites - some taken from other survivors and some from me:
- "Tell me what's helpful and what's not."
- "Tell me whether you want to be alone or want company."
- "Tell me what to bring and when to leave."
- "What can I do help?"
- "The way you fight cancer inspires me."
- “You will get through this no matter what the end brings.”
The following are some statements you should never use (authored by Jessica Firger, CBS News, November 24, 2014):
- "You're going to be fine."
- "Everything will be fine."
- "I know how you feel."
- "How serious is it?"
- "God doesn't give you more than you can handle."
- "I have a [friend, cousin, grandmother, relative, dog, fish] who survived cancer."
- "My [friend, cousin, grandmother, relative, dog, fish] just died of cancer."
And possibly the best medicine may be to say nothing. Just listen. Be there. Don’t give any empty promises. If you say “I will be there for you,” then be there for them. There is nothing worse for a cancer patient is to hear empty promises.
If you are still not sure what to say, just eat a bowl of cottage cheese. It may not cure cancer, but it sure tastes good with honey and raisins on top.