I’m a firm believer that saying something is better than nothing. All too often people are afraid of saying the wrong thing to someone dealing with cancer that they don’t say anything at all. It hurts. You feel invisible. While their heart is in the right place and they may just not know how to help, to the patient and their family it can feel like life goes on while their life has been brought to a dramatic halt.
I started a support group several months ago for “Young Cancer Wives”. It’s a safe place where we can bitch about our lives and our sick husbands without looking like a heartless, self-absorbed spouse. It’s been amazing as we find each other and can let our guard down, something you rarely can do as a caretaker. As a caretaker you can never handle the guilt of adding one more thing for your sick husband to worry about— especially if it’s you.
So I used this group of brave women to help me come up with a list of things that have been said to them and have been so wrong, so wrong that I get why some people just stay quiet.
So if you’re struggling with knowing what to say and how to help, here is a list of things to avoid when someone you know is facing cancer.
“While very well intentioned, it was not helpful when people said “let me know if I can help”. I was drowning in appointments, medications, kids, job, bills, trying to remember to take the damn trash cans out… Just drowning with everything and someone vaguely and breezily saying that was the opposite of helpful. The people who brought us dinner without me asking, who dropped off a stack of magazines, sent us an Amazon gift card with a list of funny movies…that was helpful. So the lesson I’ve learned is that when someone is drowning, they don’t even know where to start asking for help so don’t bother asking… just DO SOMETHING.”
“‘I hear Vitamin C infusions cure cancer!” (or turmeric, or any other of the 29047290749017234027345 suggestions folks make to us). I also have gotten, “So, you guys won’t be able to have kids then? I guess God didn’t want you to have any!”
“One thing that struck me was how many people just disappear. Maybe they don’t know what to say or do or they are scared but it was so hard that so many people dropped off the face of the earth after learning about cancer.”
“I hate it when people ask hubby’s prognosis or “how long does he have?”. I just laugh, should’ve been dead 2 1/2 yrs ago, but he’s not. Guess drs. don’t know it all. lol.”
“It was really hurtful how many of our “friends” totally disappeared after the diagnosis. A very small few really stepped up and were amazing but I bet 80% dropped out of our lives. Maybe they didn’t know what to say or do, maybe it was a harsh reminder of their own mortality, maybe they were just busy, who knows. But it was incredibly hurtful.”
“I had someone say to me, “you are young, you will remarry and bounce right back” seriously? Bounce right back? Ever had your heart ripped out and stomped into one million pieces? That’s me.. And I’m still working on finding all the pieces.”
“I hate hate hate when people ask “what can I do for you?” Just flipping do something. I am balancing and doing it all! I don’t have time or a chance to even think what you can do.”
I’ve had a lot of weird things said to me too. Joe used to hate when people said, “You look so good!” He’d say, “for a guy who is dying?” Eeekk… talk about uncomfortable.
The truth is though, even the people who said the wrong thing, I was glad they said something. I loved it when a girlfriend came to be with me for the weekend and she said, I know I’m going to put my foot in my mouth at some point and I just want you to know I love you and I want to be here for you.”
It meant a lot to me. Moral of the story is, people need you and you make a difference. Say something, do something. Cancer sucks and it can happen to anyone.