According to the Canadian Cancer Society, one in two Canadians will get some form of cancer in their lifetime – whether we like it or not.
Hearing that statistic makes me think of all the family members/friends that have survived their battle plus the others that we have lost. My mother battled different forms of cancer between 1989 and 1998, with a short ray of hope in between, thinking that she beat it. Even though she tried to keep me busy during these years, I saw first hand how cancer could change every aspect of your life. She had a lot of friends who would come over and try to discuss what was going on with her, but she was drained. A lot of people in these situations don’t know what to do, so I’ve compiled a short list for those who are curious:
What do you say when someone tells you they have cancer?
You don’t. You listen.
Avoid saying things like “Don’t worry!” “You’ll be fine!” “Snake Oil will help!” – Blind encouragement and/or advice will make that person close up on their real fears and not divulge what’s going on in their mind.
Try active listening and comment in a way that will affirm that their voice is being heard
“That must be scary for you – would you like to talk more?”
If they don’t want to talk more, that’s OK. Make it apparent that you will be there for them if they need. There’s no shame in joining a support group, either, if you feel the need to understand the disease or how to cope
Who do I tell if a friend or a family member has cancer?
Cancer will take away many aspects of this person’s life, and their privacy shouldn’t be one of them. If they want it to be made public, they’ll do so on their terms and in their way.
How do I refer to their condition?
Every cancer is individualistic to the person, so there’s no one answer to this question. However, I’ve noticed that mirroring their language to be beneficial. Don’t be afraid to ask! Letting them define the terms give them more power and you can avoid any issues with bringing up words that they despise like “Victim,” “The Big C” or “Journey.”
Today, on World Cancer Day, we remember those that are fighting, those that we’ve lost and those that have survived.