When you hear the word ‘cancer’ associated with someone close to you, it’s hard. The shock, even if you suspected it, can cause you to be clumsy with your communication. Disbelief is likely to stun you into silence. You may very well feel helpless. So what do you say? How can you best help them? Here’s 3 tips:
- Listen to them first.
Ask how they are feeling, what they are thinking about it, rather than immediately tell them your views. When I told a friend about my husband being diagnosed, she immediately told me of the bright prospects of that particular form of cancer and I felt like she hadn’t heard me. So just listen, and let them talk.
- Show them how you feel non-verbally.
Touch is a great comfort. If it feels right, reach out and touch their arm, hold their hand, or give them a hug. Make eye contact – connection with another through the eyes and body is what is needed more than anything, and can often say more than words.
- Find out what they need next.
Ask them how you can help, but be prepared to offer something specific. If they are still in shock about the diagnosis, they may not be able to identify what help they need, so you reaching out to them specifically will make a huge difference. When a friend offered help to me, and then suggested ‘I can drive you places, go to the Post Office, do shopping for you, or do some gardening’, that really helped me. Two weeks later, he was the one I called when I needed to get some parcels in the mail and couldn’t think how I could do it. It might not have occurred to me to reach out if he hadn’t suggested it.
Remember we are all human and sometimes say and do silly things. If you are completely at a loss as to what to say in this kind of situation, just ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ will be enough. It’s the acknowledgement of the situation that is so important, and sometimes saying less really is better than going immediately into ‘solving it’ mode. In other words, offer your support and love. It will help.