Supporting and Comforting the Newly Diagnosed
Nobody wants to hear the words, “you have cancer” but, unfortunately, too many people have. It is a life-altering moment for anyone to be diagnosed with cancer, but it also affects the lives of the people that care about them. When your friend or loved one tells you that they have cancer, it can be hard, emotional and stressful to find the right words to say to them. You want to offer comfort, hope and support. But, what words will actually accomplish those things and what words will sound empty, or uncaring? One thing we know is that having support from friends and loved ones during cancer treatment can greatly impact the outcome of cancer treatment. So, to offer your best support possible, there are a variety of things you can say that will comfort someone during a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
First, if time permits, learn more about the specific diagnosis. Knowledge is power and will make your words of support and comfort sound much more sincere. It can be incredibly frustrating and draining to explain a diagnosis in depth over and over again for family and friends. By showing up with knowledge, you make the discussion much easier for the cancer patient. And, when more information is needed and the circumstances are appropriate, do not be afraid to ask more questions to clarify things. This will help you interact better with them and be able to provide them more informed support.
Second, ask permission to discuss details of the diagnosis or to offer more support. Every person reacts to the news that they have cancer differently. Some people want someone at every appointment with them and some people want to go alone to appointments. Some people want distractions and some people want to confront all possibilities head on. Ask them how you can best support them and try to meet them where they are. Their needs may change a number of times throughout treatment but when you know more of how they need support, and ask first before doing something like showing up to an appointment, you will be able to support them in the best way possible.
Next, one topic that can often arise during a cancer diagnosis and treatment is spirituality. The first thing you want to make sure of is that you know what the patient’s belief system is. It can lead to uncomfortable conversations that nobody wants to have if you are offering spiritual support to someone who is not spiritual. And, even someone who believes in God or another belief system, may go through a period of doubt about their beliefs. No one can know how they would react after being diagnosed with cancer and it is not anyone’s place to judge their reaction. Be a support system within the belief system of the patient and respect those beliefs during times of crisis.
Lastly, offer REAL help. It is easy to say, “call me if you need something” but, most people will not actually follow through on that offer. Be specific and ask for specifics if you cannot think of things. Talk to the patient about what their needs are during this time. Perhaps they need meals, or a ride, or someone to run errands for them? Once you know these things, offer to do them and be specific about when and how. This will take any awkwardness out of the equation and make it simple for your friend or loved one to accept help, without reservation. It is wonderful that you want to help support your friend or loved one during their cancer diagnosis and treatment. When you arm yourself with knowledge and offer real help, you will support your friend or loved one during their time of need in the best way possible.