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Avoid Saying… Guide to Speak GOOD in the Face of Cancer

Author: Aideé Granados

Each head is a world. So goes a popular saying. And yes, that's the way it is when it comes to saying the right words to a person experiencing cancer and its treatment.

What do I say? What is better to skip? What am I talking about?

There is no general rule of thumb, however, I share some ideas that I have gathered from readings, from my experience as a cancer survivor, from friends, acquaintances, and strangers that I have asked and shared their views with.

I know from a good source that after a cancer diagnosis there are people who seem to be mute and avoid even meeting patients because they do not know what to say. On the other hand, there are others who say inopportune things and somewhat out of place (although with good intention).

So how do you hit it? Here is a guide that can help us:

  1. Avoid asking "How are you?"

A recent New York Times article (What Not To Say to a Cancer Patient) says that one of the most common and least liked questions by patients is: How are you? How do you feel?

So simple question. So common. So logical, we might think! However, a patient suffering from cancer (or another serious chronic disease) does not like to answer the obvious. For some patients in treatment, this question may sound inappropriate and sometimes annoying. It is painful to introspect and respond to how we really are and how we feel. Even more so when who asks us is not a person from our most trusted circle.

Some suggestions: Do you want to tell me how it was today? Are you in the mood to chat a bit? What do you want us to talk about?

  1. Moderate the "cheers."

I mean, be wise in your role as a cheerleader. Yes, we want to inject courage and say nice things like: “you can”, “science advances very fast”, “you will be cured very soon”, “you will be fine”, etc. However, in the words of Dr. Stan Goldberg, a University of San Francisco professor and cancer survivor, “Words of optimism can work in the short term; however, in the long term they can create a feeling of guilt if the cancer is more aggressive and diminishes the best effort that the person puts to cure ”.

Dr. Goldberg shares that it is the patient who has to deal with the REAL possibility that this life may soon end, or at least dramatically and dramatically change. Nobody, nobody else is in your shoes (not even another survivor, because each case is particular and unique). "False optimism detracts from what is really going on in my body." And I would add: to what is happening in my body, in my mind, in my spirit. It moderates the "cheers" and false optimism.

Some suggestions: Count on me. I'm with you. Unconditionally, here I am. Whatever happens, I'm by your side.

  1. Offer concrete help

Instead of asking what do you need? o How can I help you? Be more specific, knowing the reality of the person who needs your help and as long as you have enough confidence to propose.

Some suggestions: I will

  • stop by your children to take them to school, what day do you want me to be here for them?

  • I'm going to the supermarket to do my shopping, tell me what you want me to bring you.

  • I'll be making dinner for you this week, what day is it okay for me to bring it?

  • I stop by your children to play at my house all afternoon, what time is it good for you to do it?

  • I can help you make the sales presentation at the next board of directors, can you share the information?

  1. Speak less and listen more.

Again I take the words of Dr. Goldberg: "Most of the time the greatest support comes from contemplation, in silence." "Sometimes only presence and compassionate listening are necessary"

Let's talk less and listen more. Cancer patients like to lead conversations;). Let them speak. Let's listen. And let us seek to understand with the mind and above all, with the heart.

  1. Avoid well-intentioned teasing

Especially when it comes to physical changes. I remember that very often they told me: With so much heat, it is better not to have hair! Now your hair is going to come out straight, as you always dreamed of. Now you have a forced vacation from work, take advantage of it! How good it is to be under the effects of tranquillizers after chemo because that is how you sleep like a baby. Avoid sarcastic comments.

  1. Avoid talking about forecasts.

Do you have doubts as to whether your friend or family member has a high or low survival rate? Well ... put up with it! =) You are there to help your acquaintance, friend or family member, not for him to clear doubts for you. The patient has enough to understand the reality of a prognosis. If he wants to talk about it, listen to him carefully. If not, avoid touching on this topic.

Once, only once did I allow it. One person, with total good intention, asked me: "Aideé, and if the treatment does not work, what will you do?" I was enraged, as I rarely remember, I did during treatment. I had enough to answer at that moment a "What if ..." that was more important for the sender (the person who asked me), than for the receiver (in this case, me). Please, do not seek to satisfy your doubt about prognosis by asking who suffers from the disease.

  1. Avoid comparisons.

There is no case equal to another. Each case is unique and unrepeatable. Avoid comparing with the case you heard yesterday, that of your neighbor, your mother, your friend's cousin. Now, what you can offer is the possibility of putting two survivors or patients who are undergoing similar treatment in contact. Empathy between them will be highly probable and they will be able to exchange valuable information.

  1. Avoid "cutting off" the recognition of emotions.

I confess that I said several times: "I am afraid of dying." And many others told me: "Aideé, by God, don't say those things." "Shut up!" Of course, these comments I received were full of good intentions.

In the life of the cancer patient, there are moments of anguish, fear, sadness, anxiety, frustration, anger, despair, pain ... and the first and best step for that negative emotion to be in our favor is to recognize it, express it, share it! Allow negative emotions to be expressed, to come out, to be shared… .and thus they will become emotions that bring peace and security.

  1. Avoid being the "expert" on the subject.

If you want to recommend doctors, naturopaths, complementary treatments, blogs, books, therapies, etc., first ask for permission. If cancer sufferers are interested, then yes, present them with serious, professional information from reliable sources.

Suggestion: dose the information that your friend or family member wants and that you have. If you send him 5 books at the same time, he can get overwhelmed. If you submit 10 articles from well- bloggers known, you probably won't have the energy to read them for a long time. Offer your help to synthesize, talk and find a way to share valuable complementary information for their recovery. Accompany!

  1. Avoid guilt

Save your energy, courage, courage for something else, and not look for guilty or the reason why your friend or a family member has cancer today. He already has it! Now, it is better to focus on the cure, on the recovery, and of course, find what we can do better to prevent it from happening again. Avoid blaming the lifestyle, the genetics, the air, the water… Cancer, even with all the ugliness that it can bring, also comes with valuable lessons. In fact, very valuable!


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