Now that I am finally returning to some sort of normal, now that the cancer is gone (and hopefully won’t return), I thought I would offer a little advice to those of you out there who know someone with cancer. It can be awkward, and you may not know what to do or what to say to the cancer patient. So I compiled this very short list of don’ts and do’s from the patient’s perspective.
1. DON’T tell them to think positively, that it will better their chances of survival. Why? Well, for starters, it’s just not true (See this American Psychological Association Report). And I know you don’t realize this, but you are effectively placing the blame on the cancer patient: “If you die, it’s because you didn’t have a positive attitude.” You don’t really see THAT perspective until YOU’RE the cancer patient. Being told to be positive can be frustrating and annoying, and definitely adds stress to an already stressful situation (I’m not the only patient who feels this way).
DO be supportive. Cancer has incredible psychological effects. I can’t even express what it does to you. It eats away at you literally and figuratively. Sometimes the cancer patient just needs a friend to be there. Check up on them, even if they say they are fine. Offer help with tasks you think they might not be able to do. The cancer patient might not come to you when they need help because they might not want to be a burden.
2. DON’T try to “cure” the patient. I was about to scream from the numerous emails and advice I received on so-called cancer cures. Following some of that advice would have been deadly. I don’t understand how people can believe everything they read. You may be well intentioned, but you are not helping the patient by bombarding them with unsubstantiated claims. This is LIFE and DEATH folks. Anecdotes just won’t do.
A couple of seriously bad offenders:
Johns Hopkins Cancer Update email hoax
This one is so dangerous that Johns Hopkins Cancer Center published a rebuttal:
Johns Hopkins Cancer Center Rebuttal to the above Cancer Update email
and then there’s the ol’ baking soda “cure:”
Baking Soda Cancer Cure
This is a nice list of cancer myths.
DO let them know about any current SCIENTIFICALLY SUBSTANTIATED studies you think they might like- but be careful here. Not all patients will want this information, so be very sure before you offer it.
3. DON’T try to offer treatment advice. Every cancer is different and treatments are tailored to the patient depending on many different factors. This is a very difficult, individual decision made between a patient and his or her doctor.
DO be supportive with the patient’s treatment decisions-even if you don’t agree with them. That’s a hard one, especially if the decision is no treatment.
4. DON’T assume the patient is all better once the treatments are finished. This is when we need you the most. During treatment we have the support of the doctors and nurses, but once treatment stops, we suddenly find we are very alone. The greatest chance that the cancer will come back is within the first two years, and even after the first two years there is a chance it will come back or we’ll get another type of cancer. This is all we think about. This has been my most difficult time.
DO just be there. That’s all we really want.
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