Someone I Love Has Cancer: Now what?

Cancer was once considered an incurable disease surrounded by mysteries. Despite the scientific advancements and the amount of information available today, when an acquaintance, friend, or family member is diagnosed with this disease, we often don’t know what to do, what to say, and how to react. So, here are some general suggestions on how to behave and become a strong link in their support system.

First of all, don’t feel sorry for them and don’t treat them with pity as if they are fragile, weak, and incapable. Instead, be empathetic, putting yourself in their shoes and treating them as you would like to be treated.

Practically speaking, what can you do?

  • Spend time with the person. Cancer isn’t contagious! Yet, for fear of not knowing how to react or for other reasons, many people distance themselves. If you can spend time with them, do so and try to make this time a profitable and joyful one.
  • Ask how they’re doing and if they want to talk about it. Every person deals with their diagnosis differently. Whenever you talk with them, remember to listen. Some people will feel the need to vent and talk about it. Others will prefer to ignore the subject, remain in silence, or talk about other things. You will only know which they prefer if you ask, so ask. It’s better than assuming and having to fix something you shouldn’t have said.
  • Be available and be honest. It’s normal not to know what to say, so be honest and say that you don’t know how to act, what to say, or what to answer. Make it clear that you are willing to listen, to talk about what they want, or even to remain silent. Don’t just focus on the illness; have other topics of interest to talk about, and, if they propose any activity or subject, don’t make objections, using the illness as an excuse. Join in and have fun with them.
  • Be useful and helpful. Small acts of kindness are always welcome; helping with small tasks is a way of showing appreciation and care. If they mention things they want or need help with, and they are things you can do, do them. As with any treatment, a good disposition and attitude is essential for healing. Be someone who comforts and warms that person’s heart. Be thoughtful and look and listen for opportunities to help.

Besides doing certain things, you can help also by avoiding certain attitudes. So, what should you not do?

  • Avoid comparisons. Nobody is the same and each person reacts and deals with the disease differently. So, don’t talk about other experiences you’ve heard or know of and make comparisons between them, regardless of whether the story is positive or negative.
  • Don’t make the person feel guilty. Once cancer has been diagnosed, it’s useless to regret the fact that something could have been done to prevent the onset of the disease, so be careful not to say things that could be interpreted as reproofs or that make the person seem responsible for the disease. Phrases like: “You can do this”, “Just keep fighting”, “Don’t give up”, can also sound as if the change in the person’s condition depended only on their willpower and effort, and this can also cause guilt; so, be careful and be wise with your words.
  • Don’t tell other people. If a person wants others to know, they must either express that desire or tell others themselves. Never tell people without their consent.
  • Avoid giving your opinion about treatments and care. Even if you are a healthcare professional, avoid asking questions about the procedures and medical instructions that the person may be receiving. If you feel it’s necessary, talk to someone who is helping the person undergo treatment. If the sick person is your family member, speak directly to the doctor who oversees their case. Don’t make assumptions, give tips, or mention new therapeutic methods and other alternative treatments. This can cause confusion and discomfort and make the whole situation uncomfortable.

Finally, the most valuable tip: pray for the person, and if possible, with them too. If they aren’t religious, you may have the opportunity to speak of God’s love, or if you cannot do so, just show Christian love and pray for them. The prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much. Ask God to act and to perform His will in the person’s life. Believe me, He will hear.

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