As reported on Dana Farber’s Insight Blog, it is difficult to understand what a cancer patient is going through. Knowing the right things to say to a patient about their illness can be tricky, especially given that many people haven’t had the experience of having cancer themselves.
“When someone you love is dealing with something like cancer, there’s a feeling of helplessness,” says Katelyn MacDougall, LICSW, who is a social worker at Dana-Farber’s Young Adult Program. “We try to say things we think will make it feel better, but nothing we say is going to make cancer better; patients just want to know that people are supporting them.”
Patients say that the often hear insensitive comments from both strangers and close friends alike. Sometimes, loved ones don’t say anything at all. Katelyn reports having this kind of conversation with almost every patient she meets with.
So what kind of conversation do cancer patients want to have?
At the Young Adult Program’s 14th annual conference, patients between the ages of 18 and 39 ranked the most and least helpful things that people have said to them during their conversations. Here some of the top responses:
Things to say:
“I love you.”
“This sucks, and I’m sorry you have to go through it.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“I know you’re tired; I just want to watch TV with you.”
“I don’t know what to say, but I am here.”
“Do you want to talk about it, or be distracted?”
“Is today a good day or a bad day?”
Persistent communication was reported, overwhelmingly to be a key in comforting patients.
Frequently text messaging or sending email checking ins – without expecting a response –
really helped patients feel less isolated. Just by being there for them, can be a fantastic source
Below are comments that young adults said were not helpful.
What NOT to say:
“Let me know what I can do.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“What’s your prognosis?”
“My cousin died of cancer.”
“At least you can pull off short hair.”
Patients can often feel pressured by loved ones when they feel like they have to be positive all the time or always be thinking about tasks for them to do. While these are well-intentioned comments, patients say that when loved ones think of a specific thing to do to help, such as bringing a meal during the week or offering to drive them to treatment, can take away a lot of the pressure during an already stressful time.
“I encourage people to think about what their strengths are: Are you better at providing emotional support or providing task-based support?” MacDougall says.
Please note, the contents of this article do not necessarily represent the official position of the PSMO. If you have any health concerns, please consult your general physician. For any cancer- related concerns and to ensure the best possible advice, please speak to a Cancer Expert. If you would like to reach out to the PSMO, please contact us here or search for your closest PSMO doctor here.
Article Reference Source: http://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2017/05/what-to-say-when-a-loved-one-has-cancer/