There are 2 clear trends on this blog: I keep talking about the not-helpful things people say to cancer patients and you guys like to help and comment (we’ve had fun the last few times!). So let’s combine the two and come up with things that you could say to a cancer patient or do to be helpful. Because let’s face it, it’s going to happen to someone else you know, so let’s use my experience to make it better for the next person.
- ‘You look great!’ – that has to be my least favorite. It’s like an auto-response, people can’t help it, it’s the first thing out of their mouths. But it’s almost always not true, or has the hidden silent ‘for a cancer patient’ tacked-onto it. How about the new auto-response be ‘it’s good to see you!’
- ‘Your hair looks great!’ – I’ve addressed the hair thing many times. There is so much attention placed on hair, make-up, eyebrows. Let me tell you something: stop focusing on a person’s looks!!! Most days, the fact that I put on clothes is an achievement! And while you like the pixie cut on me, I don’t. But I like the boots that I put on. Or the sweater that I coordinated with my tank top. So if you must compliment a cancer patient on their looks, I would highly encourage you to focus your compliments on something the person has control over. ‘Nice shoes’, ‘I like that scarf’, ‘I have those same pants!’
- ‘Let me know if I can do anything’ – first of all, do not EVER say that if you don’t mean it. Most people say it but have no intention of actually being of any kind of help. If you really do want to help, let me tell you from experience, the person going through cancer usually doesn’t know what day it is, so coming up with an helpful errand is next to impossible. My suggestion? Volunteer to do something you would be doing anyway. Going to the grocery store? Buy an extra loaf of bread or a bag of apples and bring it to the person’s house. Offer to take the kids – because cancer happens to everyone in a family. So if your kids are going to sit on the couch and watch a movie while doing rainbow loom, add your friend’s kids to the mix. Make extra food: On amazing friend often dropped off soup/brownies/sauce. She was making it for her family and just doubled her recipes. She never asked first. She just did it. Some days, it landed on the perfect day. Other days, I froze what she brought. Another friend read the weekly school email and saw that I had recess duty coming up. She emailed me to say she was covering it. Pre-emptive helpfulness. Finally, and this will surprise no one: be a Wine Fairy. Or a Rice Pudding Fairy. Or a Chocolate Fairy. Just do *something*. Trust me, it means more than you will ever know to the recipient. If you are not in the same city: SNAIL MAIL! I’m telling you, the days when the mailman had something for me cheered me up more than anything else. Even though I could be in touch with the same people electronically, there is something about real mail that can not be explained.
- ‘Call me if you want to talk’ – now, this one is in part due to my own personality, but I can tell you after speaking to other patients, I’m not the only who feels like this. It’s very hard to reach out to people. The longer the treatment goes on, the harder it gets. Because you feel like a burden. You feel like you are bothering people. People have busy lives and you are an interruption, an anomaly. So if you have a friend who is going through cancer, the ball is kind of in your court to reach out to them. And you might have to do it more than one time.
- Don’t ask the patient to make choices! I thought this was just me, but I’ve been comparing notes with other patients… The few times I went out for lunch, people would say ‘where do you want to go? What are you in the mood for?’ and all I could think was ‘what day again? what time?’ during treatment, everything is overwhelming, so the thought of picking a restaurant IN ADDITION to getting dressed, putting on makeup and putting on a wig is overwhelming. For me, the best outings were ‘lets go to lunch on tuesday at 12. we can either go to A or B, we’ll decide when i pick you up, depending on how your stomach feels’. One lady I met told me when she got to the restaurant, she excused herself and went to the bathroom to call her sister and ask her what to order because looking at the menu, she started to shake and she didn’t remember what she liked. Trust me, if I’m in the mood for a grilled cheese and pickles, I will tell you! But otherwise, limit the options!
- it’s ok to talk about non-cancer stuff! let’s talk about TV, or Rob Ford, or take bets on when the Champlain bridge is going to collapse. I have a lot of time on my hands, I am up-to-date on ALL the news!
Ok, now it’s your turn. What are some good things you could say to someone who is going through this? Tips, ASSvice, ideas, go for it!