When a family member or close friend receives a cancer diagnosis, it can be overwhelming for those who are close to them. Often the cancer diagnosis changes those relationships in unanticipated ways that can make communication more difficult or even uncomfortable. Continue reading to learn about 10 Things Your Loved Ones with Cancer Want You to Know but might not want to tell you!
1) Your loved one is scared, too.
It’s an unbelievable challenge to be diagnosed with cancer - the patient is scared about what is happening and what is to come. It is challenging enough for them to deal with their fears. If you frequently bring up how scared you are for them, it makes it harder for them to keep it off their mind. Also, they can feel responsible for your fears. It’s always best to stay positive and let them initiate any conversation about their feelings that isn’t on an upbeat note.
2) Don’t minimize their feelings.
It seems contrary to the first point, but often people are trying to give encouragement and end up having the opposite effect. A cancer patient wants to feel hope but telling them to think positively can feel insulting. In addition, it is a cultural habit to tell people they “will be fine.” In this circumstance, it is not appropriate to try to reassure them that they “will be fine,” it’s better to maintain positivity yourself and minimize reminders about why they shouldn’t be positive.
Being considerate of their feelings also means being aware of how you greet them. If you were talking to a healthy friend you would simply ask, “what’s up?”, “how was your weekend?”, or something similar. Continue to do that! It is easy to fall into the habit of asking, “how are you feeling?”, but that is an additional reminder of their condition and of how things have changed. It’s probably best to avoid that greeting, whenever appropriate.
3) They need to talk about what is going on.
Their diagnosis affects both of your everyday lives. Your loved one needs to deal with what is happening, and a big part of that is talking it out with those who are close to them. If they open the door to talking about their treatment, diagnosis or anything relating to the cancer, take the opportunity to help them process what’s going on! This is a chance for them to let you know what they are thinking, feeling and for you to ask questions, talk with them and generally make them feel cared for and loved.
4) No one can keep it together 24/7.
Life can be difficult - a patient going through cancer is no exception. They are feeling very real and powerful emotions and they will need to have chances to express them. When they do, all they need from you is a good friend and listener. They understand that you don’t understand what they are going through and you don’t need to pretend that you do.
5) Cancer is not contagious!
Most people know that cancer is not contagious, but sometimes people unintentionally act like it is actually possible to “catch it” from a loved one. It’s important to remember that often the patient still wants human contact outside of the doctors and nurses. Ask first, but simple gestures like holding their hand or providing a hug breaks through the barriers that the cancer can put up.
6) One of your main jobs is to provide a distraction.
While they do need time to talk and express what they are feeling and thinking, they also do not want that to be the only thing you discuss. Sometimes it is easier and more enjoyable for them to hear you talk about your everyday life, your interactions with your co-workers etc. They do not think you are rubbing it in their face - they enjoy the normalcy of the conversation and the distraction.
7) Cancer patients need time alone too.
Everyone needs a break and needs time to themselves; again, they are no exception. If you ask if you can come visit and they say no - do not take it personally! They need to take time for themselves; time where they do not need to pretend to be brave and when they do not have to think about what others are thinking or feeling. This time alone can be soothing and calming.
8) The patient is not the only one who needs support.
Their family and caregivers need just as much support as they do. If the individual has children, they might not be able to understand fully what is happening, but they know their life is dramatically different. Their caregivers are taking on additional stress and responsibilities that they were not expecting - they need a break, and they need someone to talk to as well.
Keep the individuals closest to the patient in your thoughts as you offer support or as you try to find ways to help! It can put the patient at ease knowing their children or spouse are having a fun day that does not involve being reminded of the cancer.
9) They will need patience and forgiveness.
Between the side effects of treatment and additional stress the individual is under, there will be days they are not their normal selves. They could be forgetful, hurtful, short or rude; this is not intentional and it is not done intentionally. Try not to take it personally and forgive them - they will not want to apologize and sometimes not realize they should apologize.
10) It is okay to say or do the wrong thing!
A cancer diagnosis is hard on everyone - just like they are going to have bad days, and might make mistakes, so will you. Do what you can to be aware of what you are saying, but don’t go too far and be so careful that you’re not able to have a conversation because you are worried about saying the wrong thing. They want things to be as normal as they can, given what is happening, so give them that!
Our specially trained team of physicians and nurses provides services for all types of cancer care. We pride ourselves on delivering high-quality, personalized and compassionate care. We make ourselves available to patients, families and loved ones throughout the entire process. We are available to answer questions, prepare you for what is next and ensure you fully understand the treatment options and decisions you are making every step of the way. Learn more about our oncology services today.