When A Loved One Has Cancer

At some point in your life, you’re probably going to have a friend or family member diagnosed with cancer (if not yourself). How do you deal with it? Here are some examples from my own life, along with some things you probably shouldn’t do.

The week I was diagnosed I was in the hospital from Friday morning to the following Friday morning. My parents spent the days with me (and a night at one point), but we had two golden retrievers at the time (and as of this writing, still do). There were things to take care of at home. My friends from my ward would come visit me in the evening, allowing my parents to feel comfortable going home knowing I wouldn’t be alone. One week between diagnosis and surgery, Family Home Evening was in my backyard. Following surgery, I ended up in a rehab facility. One Sunday while I was there, members of my ward came to sing to me. There must have been a dozen or more people there. It meant the world to me. When chemotherapy and the cold of a Wisconsin winter kept me home from church and weekly activities, my ward encouraged people to come visit – and they did. Throughout treatment, I had visitors again and again. I had chemotherapy every two weeks and for most of my cycles, two of my close friends came to visit.

So what can you do when someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer? Here are some ideas.

  • Continue being their friend. Most of us diagnosed with cancer can tell you stories of friends who dropped away when they were diagnosed with cancer. I had friends, good friends, who completely dropped out of my life. On the other hand, I got closer to people I hadn’t been before.
  • Meet them where they are. Treatment for cancer isn’t easy. It’s physically and emotionally tiring. Maybe they don’t have the energy to go out to the movies anymore. Instead, try watching a movie in one of your homes. But keep inviting us to do stuff. Let us decide our limits.
  • Instead of asking if there is anything you can do, pick something you can help with. Maybe that’s picking up groceries or watching their kids or finding a way to help with housekeeping chores. The number of things that need doing can be overwhelming, especially when you consider the overwhelming amount of medical information that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. For me, the best thing people could do for me was to come visit. Visitors were my window to the outside world.
  • If you can’t think of what to say, tell them you love them. Tell them that you don’t know what to say.
  • Make sure they know you are there and you’re not going anywhere. Fighting cancer isn’t something you do alone.

Here are some things not to do.

  • Don’t drop them as a friend. Even with a major trial on the way, they are still who you knew. And cancer isn’t contagious.
  • Don’t tell them everything is going to be fine. While my faith tells me that all will be made right in the eternity to come, that doesn’t mean everything in this life is going to be fine. And even if things turn out okay, that doesn’t address the difficult times in the middle.
  • Don’t start telling stories about how chemotherapy is so bad and won’t work or how so and so killed their cancer just by juicing. We’ve done our research and we’ve chosen to trust modern medicine instead of quackery.
  • Please, for goodness sake, don’t ever tell someone they got the “good kind” of cancer. There is no good cancer.

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