Many people find themselves at loss for words when they find out someone they know is suffering from cancer. Even with the best of intentions, they can find themselves saying things without realizing their impact on the cancer patient.
If you find yourself in such a situation and want to show your sympathy and support in a compassionate way avoid the following common phrases:
6 sayings to steer clear of
- "Everything is going to be fine."
With cancer, you can never be sure of what the future holds. When you tell a cancer patient that everything will be okay, they may feel unheard and dismissed. A comment like this might make them feel that their disease is being taken lightly and their true suffering is not at all being understood. So, show your support by talking about hope realistically, with due consideration of risks.
- "I understand your feelings."
Although you are trying your very best to be understanding, telling a cancer patient that you share their feelings is a bad idea. Only cancer patients and survivors can completely understand the pain and emotions that accompany such a serious illness. A healthy person making such a claim may seem insincere.
Empathy is a positive character trait that can help you communicate with others across the board, but assuming that you truly appreciate the patient’s state of mind can be insensitive. A better way to discuss their feelings is by asking them how they are holding up, and assuring them that you are there for whatever they may need.
- "Be positive and avoid stress."
A person diagnosed with something like cancer has every reason to feel low and stressed at times. Though it is suggested to avoid stress for defeating cancer, you should not tell a cancer patient to shut out all their worries. If you tell them that their stress might encourage the growth of cancerous cells, they may start feeling guilty about their disease and hold themselves responsible for it. The best way to suggest a ‘remedy’ for stress is by encouraging patients to engage in activities that they enjoy. Offer to participate with them, or facilitate some kind of welcome distraction, but never force them to partake.
- "I think about your situation and can’t stop crying."
Do not portray yourself as the victim and center of attention while trying to comfort a loved one with cancer. Be honest about your feelings if they ask, but also realize that you are a vital source of support for your loved one. Instead of focusing on your emotions, tell the cancer patient that they have a shoulder to cry on whenever they feel low or sad.
- "You are a strong person."
As soon as people hear about somebody suffering from cancer, many react by automatically encouraging them to be a hero who valiantly battles the disease. The reality is, not everybody is a hero and not everybody is that strong. When cancer patients are told that they are warriors or fighters who have to beat cancer with a high spirit, they often get intimidated and feel an immense amount of pressure. Instead of putting even more of a burden on the patient, appreciate their attempts to handle the stress, and admire how they are coping up with the tremendous challenge they are facing.
- "Let me know if I can do something for you."
While it sounds like a very polite thing to offer, it may leave cancer patients in a tough situation. Rather than actually helping, this offer places additional responsibility on your loved one to seek out help. Many individuals wish to retain their independence and function at the same level they did prior to their diagnosis, which isn’t always realistic. Instead of making the patient confused about what to ask from you or when, offer your help in specific areas that you can manage. For instance, if you can cook, simply ask them when would be a convenient time for you to deliver some of their favorite home-cooked dishes.
Showing sympathy to patients, especially those with cancer, is not always straightforward. If you do not know what to say, it is better to quietly listen to their concerns instead of saying something that may not come across as supportive.