What Do You Say When a Loved One Has Cancer?
As a cancer survivor, one who had Stage 4 melanoma and healed from it, I understand completely that cancer affects everyone in a patient’s life.
Their spouse, children, parents, and friendships are all affected and it can be frustrating and frightening trying to figure out how to deal with it. Even after healing or remission takes place, cancer leaves a lasting impact on patients and their friends and loved ones. Everyone touched by the disease needs cancer support in their time of sickness or adversity to cope with physical and/or emotional changes.
“Melanoma is a form of skin cancer in which cancer cells form in melanocytes (the skin cells that make the pigment melanin, which gives skin its natural color). Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. When melanoma starts in the skin, usually as a mole, the disease is called cutaneous melanoma. Melanoma is most often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) of men and on the arms and legs of women. Melanoma can also occur in the eye, which is called intraocular or ocular melanoma.”
This was the grave and possibly fatal illness that I contracted and had to face. And it was a very long way away from easy, both for me and for all the people in my life.
Many people, not surprisingly, feel themselves at a terrible loss for words when someone they know and love has cancer. They don’t know exactly the right thing to say, or do.
What people should always keep in mind if they have to face this terrible situation is the body-mind-spirit connection. In other words, a cancer patient needs to hear and see words and attitudes that are positive and authentic. This will facilitate their healing, although they are the ones who need to do the real work.
So, for one thing, it is very good to speak words of encouragement and the feeling that the patient can pull through, that he has the strength to make it and live a full life once again. But it’s not a good thing to try to sound like some mysterious faith healer and say things like “I just know that you’ll be healed of this in less than a week, so smile and rejoice!” or anything clearly fake like that. The patient is already in a heightened state of sensitivity because of one’s condition and will be more acute than ever with the perception that they are being lied to or “coddled”; and these latter feelings do not facilitate healing, but block it.
Another wonderful thing that you can do for a cancer patient is keep them laughing. It has been demonstrated through research and experience that cancer can be effectively fought through humor. A cancer patient naturally is going to have some very morbid thoughts and anything that can distract her from those and take her to another place mentally where she’s laughing and feeling that life is good is something that furthers healing. And while you definitely don’t want to seem like you’re making fun of her in her illness, you should make your comedy real and down to earth and not try to handle the patient with kid gloves as you try to make her laugh. A quip like, “I see you’ve lost weight”, or “I really envy you–you don’t have to put up with the traffic on the roads these days!” can bring some great peals of laughter and make the patient feel like a real human being rather than just a cancer patient.
Perhaps most important is to try to speak to the patient as much like you always did as you possibly can, all things considered. If the two of you bantered a lot, keep doing it. If the two of you liked to get involved in lengthy philosophical discussions, continue to do so (although you may want to de-emphasize reflections on death). If you played chess, play chess.
Above all, though, listen to the patient for cues as to how you should talk to him. Some people are going to prefer talking directly about their cancer; others will want to avoid all talk of it entirely. Listen to the patient and think about what you know him to be like, responding appropriately.
Do not say or be negative around someone who is severely ill. That negative energy can drain them of their valuable healing energy. Use life-affirming and words, actions and attitudes to augment other natural cancer treatments and help the patient become a cancer survivor.