Upon hearing the news that a friend or family member has been diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer, it can be difficult to come up with the right words to say.
Research encourages us to remember that people in a crisis do better if they have strong and appropriate emotional support.
CancerCare (www.cancercare.org) offers some tips on how to reach out to a newly diagnosed loved one in a meaningful way:
- Listen. Often we are tempted to say “you will be OK” when fear or sadness are expressed. However, your ability to listen without judgment or “cheerleading” can be one of the most meaningful contributions you can offer.
- Stay connected. Checking in regularly over the long haul is important. Cards work well, even on days when fatigue may make long conversations or visits difficult.
- Share advice when you are asked but support their treatment decisions: Offering to research information on the diagnosis may be helpful. Avoid saying, “You should try…”
- Keep the caregiver in mind: Often the main family caregivers put their own physical and emotional wellbeing on hold.
- When offering to help be specific: Rather than saying “Call me if I can do anything” try “I’ll bring dinner over on Tuesday” or “I’ll walk your dog on weekday mornings.”
- Honor their need to keep things “normal.” Be sensitive to the fact that for the person experiencing a serious illness, occasionally doing their routine “pre illness” tasks can lesson their sense that their life is being consumed by the diagnosis.
- Stay attentive to their needs once treatment is over: Many people completing treatment for cancer report that, “It’s not over when it’s over.” Your listening ear may be especially appreciated during this is the time when the enormity of what they have been through suddenly hits home.
- Learn about the diagnosis: Seek out information from reputable professionals and organizations.