person thinking and shrugging sitting inside a speech bubble

Not Knowing What To Say

The lives we live are very routine. For most of us, we wake up, go to work, come home, and go to bed. Of course, there are the little things within that routine that can change daily, but even those things are expected. For example, we eat breakfast every day, but what we eat may be different. We have a job, but the workload may change each week. Even when we come home from work we may have to shop, drive the kids to an activity, plan what to eat for dinner, or even stop to see a friend. In the course of a day, there are very few surprises. But then your daughter calls to say she has cancer. That was a surprise, a shock to the system, a punch in the gut - what can I say or do to make it better?

I wanted to fix it

As a mom, I always wanted to fix the hurts and kiss the pain away. But there were many times I couldn’t. When one of my daughters came home to say a best friend hurt them, what could I do? I will never know who felt more pain, them for losing their friend, or me for watching what they had to go through. Luckily, the childhood issues stopped and all of my daughters turned into fine young ladies. But then Crystal, my middle daughter got cancer. I didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t know what cancer would do to her. How could I say, ‘you will be ok’ when I didn’t know? What I said was, ‘I want you to come home, and she did.

Knowing what to say to someone with cancer is difficult, especially when they have just learned about the diagnosis. They are petrified and have so many emotions that are just raw. What I learned is, the best thing to do is listen and then do everything you can to help. If you want to offer advice, ask. Sometimes I forgot to do this and offered advice anyway. If you do, know they may not be ready for your advice or may not want it. If that’s the case, drop it and move on to something more pleasant. It’s their life and they have to combat cancer their way.

Listening can be emotionally draining

Helping someone with cancer physically is easy. Well, not necessarily easy, but easier in many ways than listening. Cooking, cleaning, driving, or doing anything is tangible and you can see how it helped. But talking to someone about what they are going through is emotional. Just listening and trying not to speak so they have time to express their thoughts can be draining. It’s difficult to see the pain someone you care about is going through. But the best thing you can give them is your time and allow them to talk and have the freedom to say what’s on their mind. They will also need your physical help, but being there for them emotionally is so important. If you’ve ever gone through a major disease, you understand. It’s those people that actually took the time to see you, listen to you, who showed they were really concerned, and wanted to hear what you had to say that you remember and are grateful for. You can be that person.

If you are a close friend or family member, you will be with your loved one frequently. Give them time to talk when you feel they need it. If they know it’s ok to open up, they will. If you are not there every day, then try to call at least once a week to check-in. Share what’s going on in your life and then let them share what they are experiencing. If they don’t want to talk, don’t push, but let them know you’re there.

Many times we don’t know what to say when someone close is going through a traumatic time, like cancer. But sometimes saying nothing is what’s best. Just know, the gift of your time is really what will make the difference.

Wishing you health & happiness.

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