Medically Reviewed by Sreenivas V. Rao, MD
“It is not easy talking to someone who has a life-threatening health issue, even for those of us who deal with it every day,” says McLeod Oncologist, Dr. Sreenivas Rao. “So, we understand how difficult you find it when faced with a friend or family member who is a cancer patient. This article includes some suggestions and some straight talk directly from cancer survivors.”
First, be a good listener. Be respectful. Don’t be scared of silence. Don’t avoid their situation. That would be rude.
Sometimes the patient just needs to be alone. On the other hand, this person has many roles in life – parent, child, worker, church member, cook, bowler, golfer. They don’t want to become merely a “cancer patient.” Talk about other areas of their life. Action can speak louder than words. If they played cards before the diagnosis, play cards with them now. If they went to the movies, take them to a movie.
When you do talk, maintain eye contact. Your body language can speak louder than your words. Don’t be afraid of them as a cancer patient. They are not contagious.
Before you give unsolicited advice, listen carefully. In fact, try to avoid giving advice. This person is an adult and likely has made adult decisions for many years. Being diagnosed with cancer does not automatically revert them to being a child.
Here is a list of things to AVOID, based on suggestions from actual cancer patients:
Final Thought. We know you want to be supportive of cancer patients you know. One former cancer patient suggested the best thing you could say is, “I will be here for you in any way you need, in any way I can.”
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Sources: McLeod Health, American Cancer Society, Cancer.net, Cancer Etiquette: What to Say, What to Do When Someone You Know or Love Has Cancer by Rosanne Kalick, www.halffund.org, About.com, The Assertive Cancer Patient by Jeanne Sather, I Can’t Believe You Said That by Sherry Baker.