When you learn that a friend or family member has been diagnosed with a serious illness like cancer, it can be difficult to know what words or actions might help.
Research reminds us that just as no two people experience a diagnosis like cancer in the same way, the best support is uniquely individual too. Here are some tips on how to reach out in a meaningful way:
- Be a "constant" in a changing world. Help the person you care about adjust to new routines and other relationships that may have changed.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes it's best to just listen instead of leading the conversation or offering advice. Because it's impossible to truly know what it's like to be diagnosed with cancer unless you have been, avoid phrases, such as "I know what you’re going through …" and "I know how you must feel …”.
- Once confirmed, don't deny the reality of the cancer diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis often invokes fear and insecurity and should be taken very seriously. Avoid making statements, such as "Everything will be fine …" or "It's OK …” Statements like this may not only prove to be false if the treatment is not effective, but they may also make the person with cancer withdraw from accepting your support because they cannot express their true concerns.
- Help the person stay involved and continuing old routines as much as possible. Remember that not every conversation needs to be about cancer.
- Discuss offering the type of support that feels genuine to your personality: emotional, (care and concern), instrumental, (transportation, money, household chores) or informational, (locating requested facts and details).
- Be gentle with yourself. Don't minimize your own feelings. When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, you may naturally keep the pain to yourself or feel guilty about being healthy. Don't worry about whether you are handling every situation in a perfect way. Let your support and desire to lend a hand be heartfelt and genuine.