3 Things To Never Say or Do To A New Cancer Patient (you may be surprised)
Cancer is crappy. There’s no way around it, whether you’re the patient, loved one caring for the patient or an acquaintance in shock & feeling helpless. When I first found out I had cancer I wasn’t shocked because I was the girl that googled all of my symptoms and self-diagnosed (yes, sometimes WebMD is correct, but don’t worry, more than likely, you don’t have cancer).
However many of the amazing people in my life were in shock. Understandably so- I’ve always been a strong, healthy athlete & I’m a young wife and mom to two little girls. So I get it, people are in shock and sometimes shocked people say inappropriate things. But, as the recipient of these inappropriate questions/comments & as an advocate for sweet cancer patients all around the world, I want to sprinkle a little insight on what to say & what not to say to a freshly diagnosed cancer warrior.
The following are things that have been said/done to me that I wish I didn’t have to hear or experience, however if I can help others understand what’s appropriate and what’s not, the pain is all worth it. On behalf of all cancer patients, here are a few notes on what NOT to say or do to a freshly diagnosed cancer patient…
1. Don’t share your cancer horror story.
We’re so sorry you lost your loved one to a horrific cancer tragedy, but as cancer patients who are already scared & in shock, the last thing we need to hear is your dark ending. I know it may be satisfying to get some kind of shock effect out of people, but it weighs on us & haunts us. I can personally recall at least 3-4 horror stories that were shared with me immediately after I shared my diagnosis on social media.
I mean this in the most genuinely loving way: Instead of jumping at an opportunity to share the grief you’re still clearly processing with a freshly diagnosed cancer patient, maybe you should seek counseling, simply offer encouragement, or stay away from a potentially triggering situation that can bring up deep hurt for you.
2. Don’t ask them if they’ve considered the fact that they may die.
Yes, yes we have. In fact, more than likely that was one of the first thoughts that popped in our heads after hearing the “C” word. There are so many dark places our minds go as we first process our new reality. The last thing cancer patients need is to be pushed even further into darkness by being challenged with this heavy question. One of our biggest battles of the entire journey is fighting past the initial darkness & fear, we don’t need people asking us if we considered the worst. We have, I promise.
(To answer on a more personal level, in my opinion, simply believing that God doesn’t want to heal me or assuming that he won’t has already sealed my fate. It may not be his will to heal me from stage 4 cancer & I’m okay with that; I believe He’s a good, good Father either way because He’s already conquered death & provided me heaven to live in forever when I die, but I can’t live believing that I’m going to die from this. I know it’s a deep, trippy concept, but He has called us to live fully on Earth, no matter the circumstance & I don’t believe assuming you’re going to die & giving up on a fight that is set before you is truly living.) For more on that, you can check out this blog Ben wrote about the question “What if God doesn’t heal me?”
At the end of the day, it’s a valid question, but it must come at the right time. Don’t ask a new cancer patient if they’ve considered death as an alternative, because more than likely they’re ready to fight this thing but they’re scared to death & need all of the encouragement, strength & light they can get.
3. Don’t forget to give the new patient a hug (or their preferred method of love)
There are a few close people in my life who I was not excited to share the news with because I knew their response would be fear-filled and very emotionally charged. Fear is a natural response and everyone is 100% entitled to express their emotions, in fact I encouraged them to despite my strong aversion to strong emotions (blame my enneagram). I don’t like to cause a lot of commotion and generally when there is any type of drama I cringe and twitch awkwardly if I have to be a part of it.
So for the most part I knew who the people in my life would be that would respond very strongly. But, what I didn’t expect was how overcome with fear-filled emotion they would be, so much so that they would forget to simply give me a hug. I saw people who loved me dearly forget to show me the love I desperately wanted because they immediately wanted to take control of my new situation and ‘fix it.’ I’m all about people being in their feelings, but I’ll never forget the feeling of simply wanting a hug from a few loved ones instead of questions, immediate researching on their phones, sheer panic, etc. You are welcome to do all of those things, but first, give your newly diagnosed cancer patient a hug.