When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer it can be a shock. Obviously, you want to rush to reassure that person. You want to offer them help, but what can you really say? I’m only too aware of how difficult it can be to know what to say. As someone who routinely puts her foot in her mouth, I’ve torn myself in knots in the past when friends have been diagnosed with cancer. What should I say? How can I help? Now, as someone who is dealing with bowel cancer, I feel like I can offer my own perspective on the right and wrong things to say.
What Should You Say?
In reality, there is no wrong thing to say. Anyone who is dealing with cancer appreciates how difficult it can be. We understand that you don’t really know what to say. We all recognise that the cancer bomb can stall a conversation like no other. I’ve seen the panic creep into people’s faces. I’ve even seen people cross the road so they don’t have to acknowledge me and my cancer. In reality, going quiet or avoiding me is probably the worst thing you can do. Cancer can feel like a very lonely affair. Even if you are surrounded by family and friends, you can still feel very scared and very alone. I am the one who wakes up in the dead of night as everyone around me is fast asleep. I am the only one who really knows the dark thoughts that run through my head when I can’t sleep.
Be There For Them
If you know anyone who is dealing with cancer, don’t leave them on their own. Reach out to them. Send them a card, a note, email or a text. In reality, the only thing we want to really hear is that you are here for us. Tell us that you want to support us. Tell us that it’s shit. For the record, bowel cancer means that I love a good poo pun more than ever. Check in on us throughout our chemo, don’t forget about us once chemo starts. Make us laugh, tell us about your life. We don’t want it to always be about cancer. Take our mind off it, distract us with your stories. Never ever assume that we know you care.
Like I’ve said, I really appreciate that it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is dealing with cancer. There might not be a right or wrong thing to say but I’m sharing my tongue in cheek guide to 6 things you really should avoid saying to someone who is dealing with cancer. However, I really want to make it clear that I appreciate all these comments came from a really good place and actually, now I can look back and laugh at them.
What not to say
“Oh my Great-Aunt had bowel cancer and died from it”
Thanks for sh*tting on my parade, Janet. I also had a grandad who had bowel cancer and he survived it, so there. Please never share your stories of people who died from the cancer I have. I only want to hear positive stories. The more positive stories the better. The death from my cancer stories are not helpful. They just scare me, make me feel bad and I end up eating all of the chocolate, and I really need to stop doing that because I am putting weight on now that I’m not exercising. Plus, cancer treatments are coming on leaps and bounds. That story of your great-aunt is probably not relevant if it happened 20 years ago.
“Are you scared?”
Nah, piece of cake this. Of course I am sh*tting scared. Yes, I might be putting across a calm and composed demeanour but you don’t know how long I spent mouthing at myself this morning in the mirror “I am strong”. You don’t know that most of yesterday consisted of me running to the bathroom to cry. However, let’s all pretend I am not because I really don’t want to start weeping on you and leaving bogey stains down your fancy Joules top.
“I hope they caught it in time”
You and me both mate. I didn’t even know what to do with this one apart from stare at the person in shock, with my mouth hanging open because they have just been so bloody insensitive. We are talking about cancer, the thought that they might not have caught it in time runs around my head on a daily basis.
“What stage are you at?”
F*ck off is what I want to say, but instead I act terribly British and tell them “Sorry, I don’t know”. I really don’t understand the need to know but I assume the person wants to work out how likely I am to survive this cancer. They are probably wondering if they should come and see me or if they can leave it for a couple of months ;-). I appreciate that they want to try and quantify my cancer. They want to know exactly what I’m facing. However, I don’t know my stage. Mr C does know and if it gets to a stage where I really need to know, then I will deal with it. For now, I don’t want to know as I don’t want some level determining how likely I am to beat this. Whatever stage it is I will tackle it in the same way.
“You can’t be that ill, you were running and you look so well”
I guess this is actually a backhanded compliment. What can I say, I’m made of strong stuff. Even the doctor asked me how I was still walking around looking so healthy. However, I can’t take credit for the miracle that is make-up, it really can cover a multitude of ills. Plus, I think there is mistaken belief about what cancer looks like. It can actually be an invisible illness and that’s why some people don’t realise until it’s too late. On the other hand, I do love a compliment so please feel free to tell me that I look amazing, just take off the “you can’t be that ill” because I really wish I wasn’t…..but I am.
“Oh gawd, I ate a dodgy curry the other night and I had the runs. Could that be cancer? What were your symptoms?”
There is always that one person who immediately hears you have cancer and starts self-diagnosing. I get it, I really do. However, I might have bowel cancer but I am certainly no expert. I can always point you to my blog post but I really don’t want to enter into a competition over who poops the most. Believe me, I would win ;-). Chances are it was a dodgy curry or a touch of food poisoning, but if you have any concerns, don’t just talk to me about it, get yourself to the doctors and tell them. Hopefully, it is nothing but you never know and I would rather you be safe than sorry.
There you go, 6 things you should never say to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. All very tongue in cheek and I don’t want to offend anyone. If you know someone who is dealing with cancer then reach out to them, tell them that you are there for them, listen to them, laugh with them and cry with them. Just let them know that they are not on their own.