Tuesday, August 16, 2011

If it happens to someone you know…

Many people have expressed a desire to know what is right (and not so right) to do when someone they know is diagnosed with cancer.  Here are a few pointers that I have come up with. 

*Do offer specific assistance.  Generic questions like, “Do you need anything?” or “What can I do to help?” are likely to be met with an assurance that everything is fine.  Instead, try offering to make dinner on Tuesday, or pick up the kids after school on Friday for a play date.

*Don’t be a downer where the illness is concerned.  Statements like, “That’s terrible!” will only bring about depression, and even bitterness, in the parent.  They shouldn’t feel the need to pick you up!

*Do offer a shoulder to cry on when your friend needs to vent.

*Don’t talk only about the child’s illness.

*Do make an effort to remember the answers to questions you’ve already asked.  Like the pregnant woman who hears the question, “When are you due?” over and over, the parent of a sick child gets frustrated answering the same questions (from the same person) again and again.  I don't mean answering "How is she?".  I mean questions like, "Is she done with her treatment now?"  If you don't care enough to remember that no, it's not for a long long time, then it probably doesn't matter too much, anyway.

*Don’t forget them a year down the road.  Many well-meaning friends and family move on with their lives, and expect that their friends with the sick child have as well.  Most often, they haven’t yet.  Living in limbo is not easy.  If you have the time and resources, help is still appreciated.

*Do remember to have patience with your hurting friend.

*Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing—instead, speak from your heart.  When the elephant in the room is ignored, it is always uncomfortable : )


  1. So true. I have a cousin who's dying from a rare form of cancer, and all you can do is listen to the parents cry and try to offer some conversation that can take away the pain for a little bit.

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your cousin, Cat. I wish your family all the best!