How to be Supportive to a Cancer Patient

Okay, I’ve been there.  I just heard so and so has cancer.  Oh, how terrible is my first thought.  And my second thought is, I have to do something for them.  Oh no, what to I do, what do I say, how do I be supportive?

I never knew the answer to that question until now.  I have been absolutely amazed at the outpouring of love and support for me on this journey.  It has overwhelmed me that so many people know what to do, when I never did!

The answer to the question is do something.  Don’t ignore the person like I have been guilty of doing in the past.  And say something, even if you don’t know what to say.

My favorite things people say to me are words of encouragement.  In the darkest days, I’ve learned that encouragement is God’s greatest gift.  Some things people have said to me that have resonated with me “I am proud of how you are handling this”  “your determination is inspiring”   “your spirit shines through” “your courage in the face of adversity is amazing”.   These kind of words make me feel like I have a purpose.  That I am helping others and that this whole battle is worth it!   You feel supported as a person and not just a cancer patient.   And also “I am so sorry you have to go through all of this” is also a kind, sensitive, and meaningful phrase that is never out of style or inappropriate.

One thing I have noticed, during Chemotherapy no one really asks me what receiving Chemotherapy is like. One day when I told a friend about the hours it takes from start to finish for my kind of Chemo, they were shocked.  I had another friend say, “Well you just take a pill, don’t you?”   Ask the person what they are going through and what treatment itself is like.  Not many people ask that question, and it is something that I appreciate talking about because it all gets bottled up inside.

I’ve heard a few insensitive things.  A few of them have shocked me to be honest!   It has made me puzzled that people cold be that insensitive.   The worst thing is when people totally and completely ignore what you are going through.    It makes you feel like you are not important to them.  And maybe you are not.  That is the cold, hard truth.  But on the other hand, maybe you are very important to them, and they don’t know what to do.  But you don’t have the energy to figure out the difference.  And I’ve seen a few people run from me at the grocery store.  They don’t know what to say and just run in fear.

I had to tell a friend who made absolutely no contact with me in 6 months while going through surgery and chemo that I felt totally abandoned by her.  Her response was that she was giving me space.  Trust me, space is not what a cancer patient needs.  They need to know you care.  Take action!

One last thing, texting and Facebooking are so common.  However, it is okay to keep in touch or up-to-date with the patient, but please don’t make it your only contact.  To me it feels like I am an obligation that is being checked off a “to do list.”  It feels cold and uncaring quite frequently.

So, if you have a friend, acquaintance or associate going through cancer or cancer treatment, send them that card that can do the talking for you, send them that flower, write them that note, drop off that gift, or make that telephone call.  Do something, do anything, but make sure you do it.

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