What NOT to Say or Do

26 Jan

Each year almost 12 million people in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. Chances are you probably know one of them.

Obviously when a loved one is suffering you want to help them. What to do and say can sometimes be the hardest part.  I have to admit that sometimes I am so eager to be supportive; I say and act in a way that may not be the most helpful. So with the help from an article I read in The Huffington Post [1] and my own experience I bring you:

 Seven Things Not To Say (or do) to a cancer patient and/or their loved ones

 1. Don’t ask, “Is there anything I can do?” unless you mean it.

Asking people for help can be very hard. When someone actually takes you up on it, whether it’s walking a dog or going to a dance recital, just do it! If you are not ready to do anything and everything that they ask then you might not want to volunteer to help.

 2. Gifts 

When buying a gift for someone, especially when they are in the hospital, do a little research to make sure they can accept it. For example, a lot of hospitals do not allow bone marrow transplant patients to have flowers. Gifts that you can’t go wrong with include pajamas, bathrobes, soft blankets and electronic devices like an iPad.

 3. Don’t ignore someone because you don’t know what to say.

It is ok if you don’t know what to say to someone who is sick. But don’t use that as an excuse not say something at all.  Something as simple as “I am here if you need me” goes a long way.

 4.  Don’t take it personally

This is something I sometimes struggle with. If a friend who’s sick doesn’t respond to you, it isn’t that they don’t care or don’t appreciate you. Going through cancer treatment is not only physically exhausting, but it’s mentally draining and sometimes it is hard to return a phone call, email or even a text message.

 5.  Listen 

Obviously when someone tells you that they are sick your first instinct is to say “everything will be ok”.  Of course this is everyone’s hope.  However sometimes people do not want to hear that. They might want to talk about how they are sick of being sick or how they are scared. Rather than trying to be upbeat and positive when someone tries to express their fears or doubts, try to just listen. It can be more meaningful and helpful than positive remarks.

 6. Timing

Getting visits from loved ones is awesome!  In my past hospital stays, seeing family and friends has really lifted my spirits. However, try to keep in mind that even if someone looks great it doesn’t mean they are feeling that way so don’t overstay your welcome. This can mean different things for different people. Look for signs. If someone is yawning a lot and their eyes are closing, they probably need rest. That being said, even I have been kicked out of hospital rooms as I didn’t quite catch that when my friend was literally snoring it meant they were ready for me to leave.

 7. Don’t put people under pressure to change hospitals. 

I currently work at one of the best cancer hospitals in the country, so this is something I am guilty of.  Obviously when I suggest someone come to the hospital that I work at, I am trying to be helpful.  However, I have to remember that there are many reasons that people choose where they get treatment. For example, it might be because of hospital location, insurance or a special relationship with a doctor. Whatever it is, there is a reason and respecting it is important.

There are many ways to support loved ones. Remember that as long as your heart is in the right place you cannot go wrong.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suleika-jaouad/cancer-advice_b_1205633.html?ref=healthy-living

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