One of the most heartbreaking moments in life is when you find out that your loved one has lymphoma, myeloma, or leukemia. It can drain you both emotionally and cause devastation. When we feel so bad when someone else has been diagnosed, we can only imagine how bad the person who has been diagnosed must feel.
At this point, you can only hope that you get the right words and actions to take to make them feel better. Finding what to say to a cancer patient is the toughest part of the process.
Take Your Cue
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, how they act is totally unexpected. The patient/person with cancer may either show courage and strength that you never thought they had or become very vulnerable. They might have different emotions from time to time. Expect them to be angry, sad, guilty, and other times,all this emotions combined.
The way an individual reacts in this situation is based on how they have been handling their past experiences.
How your loved one with cancer diagnosis reacts is what should shape your reaction. There is a stage when all they want to talk about is their condition while other times, they do not want to talk about it at all. If they are newly diagnosed and at early stages, your response will be different from when they’re diagnosed at a life-threatening stage or their hospitalized.
Whatever you decide to say, say something
The pressure on what to say to a cancer patient can be overpowering. What if you say something and make them feel worse? What if they start crying? What if they ask a question I don’t know what to answer? What if they burst to tears?
The easiest thing seems to avoid the situation. Furthermore, your loved one, know you care. Don’t they? As much as this may seem easier, you have to realize that the enemy in the room is cancer. Among the mistakes, you may make of saying the wrong thing, the worst of all is failing to acknowledge cancer. So just say whatever you decide to say.
What to say to a cancer patient? It doesn’t matter; just say it with love
How to Handle Hospital Visits for Cancer Patients
Hospital visit is not the only kind gesture to show to a cancer patient. If you have a strong aversion for hospitals, there are other multiple things you can do as a part of “cancer care”to help your family member of friends with cancer. If you are okay with visiting the hospital, there are several things you should consider before showing up in the hospital;
Call before. There are a times that your loved one will need company while other times they just need to be alone. It is, therefore, crucial to call and know if they are accepting visitors. Also, in the early morning and late evenings, they are receiving treatment so you might not be able to see them during this time. They also need to take a nap in the afternoon. Calling the nursing unit/healthcare professionals will help you know the best timing for a visit.
Keep your visit short. Blood cancer patients experience a lot of fatigue, which is worsened by recent treatment. Stay longer, if they want you to stay; but don’t tire them down. Every visit should take an average of 20-30 minutes.
If you are unwell, stay away. Cancer lowers the immune system of an individual and bacteria or virus can cause a very bad illness. It is, therefore, advisable that you stay away until you get well. Even when you are healthy, make sure you wash your hands well before and after leaving their room.
What are the best gifts? If you want to gift your loved one, use your best judgment. Flowers and plants can brighten a hospital room. However, it may not be a brilliant gift idea for a patient who has leukemia or lymphoma.
Remember it’s not about you. Most people suffer from a “talking about themselves” syndrome. It is tempting to talk about your own issues if it’s your friend or parent who you are used to sharing with on that bed. Be sensitive and make it about the patient.
A cancer patient is likely to suffer from fatigue due to the multiple medical sessions; shorten your visit to give them enough time to rest.
What to Say to a Cancer Patient
In such circumstances, the best thing to say is what you feel. Are you sorry this happened to them? Say it. Do you care deeply about them? Tell them. No idea what to say? Let them know. Here are helpful conversation starters;
- I am here to help in any way I can
- I am always here if you want to talk
- Are you up for visits?
- This must be hard for you
- Is there anyone you would love me to contact?
Overall, reassure your loved ones that it is possible to live with cancer.
What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient
Sometimes it is easier to know what to say to a cancer patient than what not to say. Don’t be too cautious trying to know what to say, just try having a natural conversation. Remember, it is a;; about improving their quality of life. However, here is a list of things to avoid;
- Don’t compare the patient’s illness to something you have been through
- Don’t pressurize them to talk about cancer; just let them know you are there to talk if they need to talk to someone.
- Don’t try to be positive about the situation. To be bluntly honest, there is no silver lining in cancer; it is probably the worst that could have happened. Therefore, avoid statements like “At least it isn’t…” or “It could be worse ,” they don’t help in any way.
- Don’t be overly pessimistic about the whole situation (don’t discuss things like cancer statistics, cancer prevention at this stage)
- Stick around even when things get rough. If the person with cancer get angry, allow them to vent. For example, if they tell you, they are afraid; unroll the conversation by asking questions like; “What are you afraid of?” “What can I do to help?” These situations can be hard to contain, but by letting them do the talking, you do not have to worry about saying anything to upset them. Since there will be difficult stages like chemotherapy (followed by hair loss) radiation therapy and other side effects, situation can get really rough. Remember, cancer care includes sticking around your loved ones at such times.
- Avoid statements that minimize what you loved one is going through. This includes statements like; “Everything is going to be alright,” “Cheer up” or “Don’t worry.”
- No one deserves cancer, so whether you believe the cancer patient brought this upon themselves through their lifestyle or it was “God’s will,” kindly keep the opinion to yourself and avoid saying it out.
Most Cancer Patients Require Blood Infusions; Donating Blood in their Honor is a Big Plus.
How You Can Help a Cancer Patient in their Healing Process
There are various ways through which you can show you care for your loved one through actions. The best thing about actions is that you help take the burden out of your loved one’s shoulders.
During these times, even the smallest of the tasks can mean the world. Here are a few ideas to get you started;
- Send your loved one a card or a gift card to let them know they are in your mind
- Be an active listener. Be attentive when they are talking to you. Encourage them to keep talking if you feel/ sense they want to continue.
- Offer to take care of their children or pets if they have any.
- Most blood cancer patients require a blood transfusion at some point in their treatment. Donate blood on their honor or even consider donating your bone marrow.
- What do you know about leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma? Irrespective of whether your loved one is suffering from breast cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer or any other type and stage, research about the cancer type that your loved one is ailing from and get as much medical education as possible. Study the treatment options available and talk to the health professional about them on their behalf. It is easier to take them through the process if you know exactly what they are going through.
- With the little energy, they have, running errands for them can be of great help
- Volunteer to shovel their sidewalk or mow their lawn
- Prepare a variety of food for their freezer and fridge. Also, consider getting them fancy disposable plates, so they do not have to keep cleaning.
- Offer to do their house chores such as laundry, cleaning dishes, or vacuuming.
- Offer them transport services to their doctor appointments
- Bring them a CD, movie or book they can enjoy while in the hospital
PS: Instead of asking them what they need, it is better to offer them what they need. Instead of “do you need anything in the grocery store?” ask “how many (item) or what kind of (item) do you need?”
Above All Show them, Love
If you have never been a cancer patient, chances are you can never know what to say in the trying moments of your loved one. Everything that you may think of saying may not seem enough.
As difficult as it may be, being attentive to cues and using them as a determinant of what to do or say can significantly help you. Think before you say anything as patients can be overly sensitive during these times. Also, be an active listener and avoid interrupting them as they speak. Remember this is not about you; it’s about them.
Above all, remember to shower them with love and time during their difficult times. Be with them while they are coping with cancer or trying to live with cancer. No one wants to feel like they have been long-forgotten after a few days in the hospital. Be sure to call and see how they are doing. A connection with the outside world can go a long way in helping them in their recovery process.
Remind them they are in your mind and that you cherish them dearly. Sometimes, all everyone need is someone to hold their hand when they are going through a tough journey.