NO. A two-letter word which is also a complete sentence. A word I am learning to use more often. I am learning that people don’t know what to say to a person with an invisible illness. I know, it’s weird when your friend/associate tells you they have cancer. It’s pretty surreal for us when we first hear it too. At first, I would listen to these things and simply let them roll off my shoulder. But as time goes on, particular usage of words became very annoying. I think one of the worst things to tell a person with an invisible illness/dis-ease is, drum roll, please… “Is there anything I can do for you? Let me know. Please stop. Do not ask a person with a chronic, invisible, terminal illness is there anything you can do for them if you do not have any intentions on doing it. Most people like myself don’t like to ask people for things. So, once you put that out there and we remember what you offered and reach out, most times we get out feelings hurt. Most people believe if they say what you want to hear, that’s comforting to you. NO. It depends on what is said and ultimately, what you do.
Don’t make assumptions. “You don’t look sick. It’s over, so you’re okay right?” What does it mean to “look sick?” Many illnesses are invisible. And if you’re someone with a blood cancer, it’s never over.
Here are a few tips to better communicate with a Cancer Patient:
“We’ll get through this together. You’re not facing cancer alone.”
“I am praying for you.”
“I am here for you.” Then follow through and really be there.
Don’t ask what you can do to help or say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Many people will never ask for help, even though they need it. Instead, jump in and do whatever you can to make things easier for your friend or loved one. Deliver meals. Go to appointments. Listen. Hold hands. Offer to watch the kids or walk the dog.
Choose positive, hopeful words, but don’t give people false hope or talk about other people’s cancer outcomes. Remember, each person is different, and hearing other people’s stories may scare your friend or loved one.
Let the person with cancer be the leader. If they want to talk, listen. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk.
If your friend cries, don’t try to stop them. Reassure them that it’s okay to cry. As upsetting as it is for you to watch, tears are a natural response to distress and maybe a significant release for your friend.
And, remember, follow through. If you commit to helping, it is vital that you follow through on your promise.
Treat them the same. Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. As much as possible, treat him or her the same way you always have.
Talk about topics other than cancer. Ask about interests, hobbies, and other issues not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease.
I’m learning to say NO. NOT today. SHHH.