What is less helpful
When you’re trying to support someone, you may want to avoid:
Saying clichés or giving unrealistic assurances
Even though you might mean to be reassuring, saying “don’t worry” or “stay positive” can seem dismissive of how the person is feeling. It may also be unrealistic – of course they may worry and so might you. It’s normal to feel concerned about the situation.
The person with cancer needs to make their own decisions based on the advice of their medical team. If you’d like to share your opinion with the person, ask them if it would be helpful first.
Sharing lots of stories
You may know other friends or family members who have also had cancer, but this person may want to focus on their own health. Every person’s situation is different, even if they have the same cancer, so comparing stories may not be helpful.
I get sick of people telling me to think positive or be happy. Some days I really don’t feel positive and I feel pressured to appear that way for everyone else.John
It’s not always helpful to say, “you’ve lost weight” or “you don’t look very sick”. The person may be aware of it and pointing it out may make them feel self-conscious.
Pushing particular beliefs
All people have the right to their own beliefs and values, both religious and non-religious. The person with cancer also has the right to make their own decisions about their treatment and their life.
Asking probing questions
Depending on your relationship, the person may not want to tell you about something personal (e.g. their prognosis). Let them show you how much they want to talk about the diagnosis and treatment. Respect their right to keep things to themself.
Respect the person’s privacy and ask their permission before you share details about their health or treatment with anyone else. Try not to be offended if the person doesn’t choose to confide in you.
The person with cancer may be given more flexibility than usual with their responsibilities at work or home because of their illness. Don’t compare their situation to yours. They’re usually just getting help to make life as manageable as possible.
Treating them differently
If you don’t know what to say or do, don’t avoid them. Look people in the eye and talk in a normal conversational voice.
Podcast: How to Help Someone with Cancer
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