It is often assumed that the holiday season is anticipated as a time to celebrate and renew connections with family and friends.
However, festive social gatherings can be a stressful time for someone who is currently coping with cancer.
Many people experiencing the impact of an unexpected diagnosis have found that the holiday “gift” of an understanding ear can make a big difference.
The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org ) offers some tried and true tips on how to be supportive to someone who is surviving cancer while surviving the holidays.
They call this kind of communication "listening with your heart."
- Let them take the lead and try to be OK with silence. It may help the person with cancer to focus their thoughts. Sometimes silence is comforting and allows a space for the person to express what they are feeling.
- Try to maintain eye contact. Touching, smiling and warm looks can also help get past the barriers of the illness to the person you know and love.
- Try not to say, "I know how you feel,” or to give advice. Giving advice is hard when you are not in the person's situation. They probably just want you to ask questions or listen.
- People with cancer do not always want to think or talk about their disease. That makes them feel like their only identity is as a "cancer patient." Laughing and talking about other things are often welcome distractions, as is maintaining your normal shared activities. Try not to take the effects of their illness too lightly but don't be overprotective.
Most of all, just be yourself and try not to worry about whether you are being textbook perfect.
Let your words and your actions come from your heart. Remember, “listening with your heart” is a meaningful gift to offer during the holidays and beyond!