OK, this is a biggie. Your mom/sister/best friend/coworker was just diagnosed with cancer. You’ve hugged her and cried with her…but you don’t know what to say to her. First of all, breathe. No matter what you say (even if it’s unintentionally insensitive), your friend will understand and brush it off. But in the spirit of being as good to her as possible, here are five things to avoid telling anyone you know battling cancer.
“Well, luckily, that’s an easy one.”
You’re trying to find any glimmer of hope, we get it. And although breast, cervical or thyroid cancer may be typically highly treatable, that doesn’t mean any cancer is “easy.” Also, this could turn into a multi-year ordeal, so don’t assume any one type will follow the normal routine.
“What can I do to help?”
Your to-do list just became hers. Making your friend give the directive is awkward and exhausting. Instead, go to target.com, find a cozy throw blanket and ship it to her house with a gift message. Or you can make a pan of lasagna and knock on her door. Doing something nice for her in the beginning shouldn’t require a lot of questions.
“Are you gonna go on the anti-cancer diet?”
Ever had a bad day and then tried to eat a salad? Try extrapolating that times a million—with a side of underlying judgment. Of course veggies can positively affect the healing process (she already knows that). But stomaching anything you can is the real goal, especially during chemo, and if that’s cheese fries, so be it.
“Ugh, this head cold.”
Right now, your friend would kill for just a head cold. We know you’re trying to relate or maybe even fill the silence, but a better topic of conversation is what TV shows you two are going to binge together on the couch.
Not saying anything at all.
Sometimes, it’s all too overwhelming, and you’d rather give your friend some space. Unless you know that person prefers to be alone, don’t assume. In reality, she’s lonely and scared and just wants a buddy to watch TV with. Then, as her battle lingers on, remember to check in with her. Ask her how she’s feeling, how she’s liking her doctors, things like that. You may think you’re bothering or upsetting her, but this is her world now. Get in there with her. The TV is great.