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13 Things To Remember If You Love Someone With Cancer

13 Things To Remember If You Love Someone With Cancer

When someone you love is faced with something as unfamiliar and unpredictable as a cancer diagnosis, everything around you might seem like it’s falling apart. What do you do? What do you say? How do you support them through this? How do you support yourself?

Here are a few things to remember as you work through this situation with someone you love.

1. It’s time to forget everything you think you know about fighting cancer

No two cancer experiences are alike. While one person’s story may be enough to get you through today, your loved one probably won’t feel the same. You can read all the books and articles out there, but in reality, cancer has a way of behaving unpredictably, either for better or worse.

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2. People with cancer want to talk about things other than cancer

There will be times your loved one wants to talk about what they’re going through, but don’t be surprised if those times seem few. Those battling cancer don’t want to bring up cancer in every single conversation they have with you. Often, they’ll just want to talk about the same things the two of you always talk about: their favorite sports team or the latest book they read. Just go with it. Save “cancer talk” for their next doctor’s appointment, unless they bring it up first.

3. Sometimes all you need to do is listen

Someone faced with a cancer diagnosis more than likely understands that you don’t understand what they’re going through. They don’t expect you to. They also don’t expect you to give them unsolicited advice or to constantly shower them with positive messages. Sometimes all they need is for someone to listen to them. Being that person for them is more helpful and meaningful than you might realize.

4. Someone with cancer needs encouragement, not advice

If your loved one has a doctor they really trust, they will lean on him or her for advice about their circumstances. They probably don’t expect that kind of support from you, too. While their relationship with their doctor may be all business, they might want their relationship with you to be the exact opposite. A simple, “I’ll be right here, we’re going to get through this” before an appointment might be just what they need from you.

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5. A small act of kindness goes a long way

Something as small as picking up a newspaper or making a quick Target run on your way to visit them at home can mean much more to them than it might to you. It’s the little things that really make a difference.

6. Be observant

Your loved one might not always feel comfortable or able to tell you what they need. Pay close attention to their words and body language. Someone who is used to being independent can feel very overwhelmed when they start to realize they need to depend on others for basic necessities. It helps to ask them what they need or to ask them specifically, “Can I take care of that for you?”

7. Be patient

Keep in mind that you are not the only one faced with this reality. Your loved one doesn’t know how to handle it most of the time either. They will probably get frustrated, and so will you. Be patient. If you need to take a few deep breaths, go ahead. Caring for someone with cancer is a journey filled with twists and dead ends. It doesn’t get easier, but you might be able to settle into a rhythm to make things more bearable.

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8. Be positive

Fill their environment with positivity as often as you can. This doesn’t mean you have to shower them with cards or avoid talking about the negative things going on in your life. Encourage them, especially when they’re having a rough day, the same way you would want someone to encourage you. Let them know you are there for them, no matter what.

9. Give them space when they need it

Try not to take it personally if your loved one seems to be pushing you away. That’s not their intention at all. Everyone grieves in their own way, and sometimes your loved one might just need some alone time. Respect that need. Let them know you can be there if they need you, but don’t be there if they’re trying to communicate they need to be alone.

10. Don’t claim you understand what they’re going through

Odds are, you don’t. Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, the same way every type of cancer varies in the way it affects the body. You may have dealt with similar traumatizing experiences before or you might have even battled cancer yourself, but now is not the time to bring up your experiences to show your loved one you “get it.”

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11. Be respectful and supportive of their decisions, even if you don’t agree

Ultimately, treatment decisions are still completely up to them. If they make decisions without consulting you first, or you don’t agree with the decision they have made, now is not the time to speak up. Those battling cancer are losing control of many parts of their life, they may have once taken for granted. Let them have control over their treatment. Let them have this moment.

12. You need support, too – but not from your loved one who’s suffering

When faced with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, grieving can hit you hard. It’s not easy to take care of someone you love and deal with your feelings at the same time. You might need support, too – and that’s okay – but seeking out and expecting support from the person you’re taking care of, isn’t the best way to go. Find a friend, another family member or even a professional to help get you through it, so you have the strength to help the one who needs it most.

13. There’s still a person underneath the pain

Not even just “a person” – a person you love. Undergoing treatment and the disease itself will change them on the outside, sometimes so much so that you barely recognize them. They’re still there. They’re still the same person you have always known and loved. Look past the physical changes. You’ll see them there, and once you do, that’s something you’ll be able to hold onto forever.

Above all, remember to allow yourself time to slow down and take things moment by moment. Whatever happens, you are going to make it through this.

Featured photo credit: Hernán Piñera via flickr.com

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Last Updated on August 6, 2020

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

“Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

Are we speaking the same language?

My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

Am I being lazy?

When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

Early in the relationship:

“Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

When the relationship is established:

“Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

Have I actually got anything to say?

When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

Am I painting an accurate picture?

One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

What words am I using?

It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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Is the map really the territory?

Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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