Sunday, August 30, 2015

Things not to say/what to say to a cancer patient

I'm pretty lucky in that I've insulated myself with great people who generally stay positive and lift me up as I go through this process. However, I know a lot of people don't know what to say when they hear someone has cancer and they end up saying the wrong thing unintentionally (I'm sure I've been guilty in the past as I have terminal foot-in-mouth disease). Some people are thoughtless and say pretty awful things, based on whatI've heard from other survivors. So I've come up with a list of dos and don'ts based on my perspective.

One thing to bear in mind is that being this ill is a very emotional process. Stress, fear of dying, worry about work, money, getting things done, taking care of children, etc. can be a huge weight when you're already feeling like crap. Plus, some drugs cause mood swings. Therefore, you can't use how you would react to something as a gauge, because the patient is in a different place you are--and from where they would normally be. Something that used to make them laugh might now make them cry. It's a mine field.

I think these apply pretty well to any major/chronic illness, so feel free to chime in with your additions if you've been on the receiving end of some of these!

Things not to say to a cancer/chronically ill/etc. patient:

  • All people feel tired/achy/depressed/etc. (true, but probably not on the scale of the person you're talking to, and it doesn't make them any less miserable.)
  • Be grateful you don't have X. (there is always someone worse off; that doesn't mean I'm not allowed to feel mad/sad/crummy about what I'm going through.)
  • You got this illness because...(you are not qualified to decide this and you're probably wrong. In some cases, it's downright cruel--like attributing it to karma, etc.)
  • You should have/shouldn't have...(you can't change the past)
  • You should/should not eat/do/etc... (please don't give advice you're not qualified to give. We have doctors who make their life's work treating our disease, and we've been living with it and probably doing our own research.)
  • Anything that makes their illness about you instead of them (how will I get by without you? etc)
  • My sister/friend/dad/etc. died from that (we know people die from it. We don't need the reminder. We need to stay positive.)
  • I'm going to come visit and won't take no for an answer! (patient may not be up for a visit)
  • Should you be eating/drinking that? (it's not your business, it's the patient's and their doctor's.)
  • You look terrible!
  • You don't look sick. (doesn't mean they don't feel sick, and seems like you're questioning how sick they are)
  • "Don't play the cancer card". People with cancer totally get to play the cancer card, it's one of the few perks of having cancer-you're a card carrying member.

Things to say to a cancer/chronically ill/etc. patient:
  • I'm sorry you're going through this.
  • hugs and other expressions of love and comfort
  • I'm going to X store. Can I bring you anything?
  • Can I cook a meal for you/clean your house/run an errand for you/give you this item of comfort? (offering something specific you don't mind doing is much easier to accept than a blanket offer, although blanket offers are nice, too--just make sure you mean it!)
  • Can I pray for you? (some people are offended by certain religions so it's safe to ask. Personally, I'm not offended by any sincere offer, regardless of the religion.)
  • Sending you positive, healing thoughts!
  • I believe in you.
  • You look beautiful in that scarf.

On the update front, I'm doing well today. Saturday is usually the day I feel achy and fluish from the neulasta, but this time it really wasn't too bad. Michael got me the softest, nicest sheepskin "sherpa throw" and it is so nice and comforting to cuddle with! I took Claritin for three days in a row, starting the day I got the shot, and I think that made a difference. I had a great visit from a dear friend who is also fighting cancer (a different kind), and our conversation was a fun back-and-forth mishmash of my updates, her updates, and commiseration. And love.

Yesterday, I realized the class I'd signed up for at Folsom Lake College started this past week and would be way more work than I'm up to. I dropped it...I'll revisit next year when it's more realistic. :/

Today I'm just tired, but now I know the fatigue is all I have left to deal with. It's always nice to get past Saturday, the last of the worst of it. I think this time was somehow the easiest of the four cycles I've had so far, which is weird but I'll be thankful! I don't know why I'm having an easier time than many others I've read about. I'll count it as a combination of luck, lots of rest, my amazing support system, and following all of the doctor's recommendations. I hope the four Taxol cycles go as well. 

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful post sharing do's and don'ts! It's so great of you to write these posts sharing your journey with us. So important to inform others on how to behave. I wrote a post on how to talk to someone who has lost a baby, dos and don'ts, years ago. When my baby died, people would chatter on incessantly about stuff to fill the silence and I didn't hear a thing.

    I imagine for cancer patients it's the same. Just being there and listening is such a big help. It's tiring for the cancer patient to have to listen so have compassion and only talk if they feel up to it.