What People with Cancer Want You to Know

Most people intuitively know how to help a friend through cancer, but don’t spend enough focused time thinking about it to discover the answers. When we truly listen to others, and to what our gut tells us, we usually find our way. That’s why I framed Help Me Live… in terms of statements that people with cancer want others to know, sharing true stories that illustrate them. Please see below for a few of the key statements and other tips from the book about how to support your friend or loved one. My deepest thanks to you for caring. What helps one cancer survivor or caregiver helps us all. -LH

Six of the “20 things people with cancer want you to know” 
– “It’s okay to say or do the ‘wrong’ thing.” [Just don’t disappear because you’re afraid you’ll hurt me]
– “I like to hear success stories, not horror stories.”
– “I need to laugh – or just forget about cancer for a while.”
– “If you really want o help me, be specific about your offer, or just help without asking.’
– “I need to feel hope, but telling me to think positively can make me feel worse.”
– “I don’t know if I’m cured, and bringing up my health can bring me down.”

Some of the top 15 things you can do to help (after you ask permission, of course) 
– Set up a prayer or silent unity group.
– Bring animals to visit.
– Do research for the patient.
– Rub the patient’s feet.
– Send cards, postcards, and letters.
– Pay to have the patient’s house cleaned [or check out “Cleaning for a Reason”]
– Do something for the patient’s spouse or children.

Some of the 16 fabulous things people did and said (quotations compiled from interviews and online surveys)
– “I had surgery just before Thanksgiving and thought I wouldn’t celebrate or miss the holiday. But one friend, unsolicited, sent over a HUGE tray of Thanksgiving leftovers. I appreciated it much more than I had thought I would. I felt both included back into the world and nourished.”
– “I live alone and had to take six months off of work for chemotherapy. My brothers paid some of my bills, bought me a month’s worth of groceries, got food for my dogs. One even gave me a gift of five thousand dollars just so I wouldn’t have to worry about expenses.”
– “One of the best things was that a good friend came over and replanted my patio pots and window box while I was hospitalized.”

Beware: a few of the 26 common words, phrases and questions that can sting 
– “What’s your prognosis?” Prognosis is a medical term, and it is often associated with the word “poor.”
“Are you in remission?” Said one survey respondent, “The term ‘in remission’ indicates that the cancer is lurking somewhere in your body, and it is just a matter of time as to when it will return. It makes me anxious just to hear it.”
– “Pray for a miracle!” Although most people like to be prayed for, saying that they need a miracle implies they have a poor prognosis.
– “You’re going to be just fine.” As Dr. Lawrence LeShan said, “Don’t tell me things you don’t know anything about. Don’t tell me I’m going to get better, don’t tell me I’m going to get worse.”
– “You even lost your eyebrows and eyelashes!” Saying that to a person who has undergone chemotherapy can just make them more self-conscious.
– Before chemo: “You’ll have so much fun picking out wigs!” “Fun” is not a word most people with cancer like to hear associated with their disease.

Some of the 22 things most people with cancer like and want to hear 

– “I wanted to hear that people loved me, that they would be by my side through this entire ordeal, that they would do anything at all that I needed, that they would be with me even if I didn’t need anything at all.”
– “Mostly I wanted to hear that they were concerned and loved me, that it mattered that I was sick, that I made a difference in their lives.”
– “I wanted and needed to hear: ‘I’m going to the supermarket. Do you want to come with me, or can I pick up some items for you?'”
– “I would have liked to have heard that it was normal to have feelings of depression.”
– “My husband said things that were comforting like. ‘It’s so horrible what they’re doing to you.'”

For more info – an acronym that makes it easier to remember key tips about how to best support a friend or loved one with cancer, visit the Ask & Answer page and scroll down past blog links to HELP ME LIVE.  

See more tips in Time magazine’s interview with Hope, by Claudia Wallis. 

LAUGH, LEARN, LOVE – How to support people with cancer [originally published by Curemagazine]

L isten without judging, interrupting, or feeling like you have to say something.
A sk permission to give advice, to visit, to tell others of your friend’s problems.
U nderstand that your friend is especially sensitive because of her or his trauma.
G ive it time if your friend doesn’t feel like talking or visiting now.
H umor helps almost everyone cope. Funny movies and books can help.

L et go of the myth that everyone dies of cancer; keep hope alive!
E mpathize by trying to remember a time when you were terrified.
A nalyze your audience to determine what your friend needs and enjoys.
R un interference; keep toxic friends away from the person who’s suffering.
N o horror stories – ever! They kill hope; people want to hear success stories.

L ove her and show it by considering her needs rather than your own.
O ffer specific help such as picking up groceries or his kids, or doing laundry.
V alidate him by telling him that his feelings, even negative ones, are normal.
E xercise caution by letting her bring up the subject of her health; she may want to forget.

To purchase the Revised and Updated Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know, call or visit your local bookstore (or seeIndyBound or visit Random House. The book is also available on  Amazon.com.