What To Ask Blood Cancer Patients

A person you know and maybe even love has received the devastating news that she has blood cancer. In my case, it’s chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) or, the lingering kind. In a few weeks, I will hit the 7-year anniversary of my diagnosis. It will not be a happy day. But these suggestions could apply to any type of blood cancer – even cancer in general.

But I’ll narrow it down to what I know.

Do you want to talk about it?

I don’t remember being asked this question. Fact is, I didn’t talk about it. Big mistake, in my opinion. On the other hand, if the patient says, 'no,' please respect that and wait until he or she is ready.

Do you need anything?

You may hear another 'no.' On the other hand, the patient is reeling and probably doesn’t know how to answer or what she needs. What about bringing over or dropping off some food, a DVD of a good movie or a book you think she might like? How about offering to run an errand, pick up a prescription, or drive her somewhere? It would show that you care and also that you recognize the person is the same individual who still has non-cancer interests and that you will be there for her.

Do you want company?

Again, be respectful of the patient’s condition, mood, and wishes. Maybe it’s wise to give reassurance that the pair of you can laugh over old times, look at photos, play a game, listen to music, or do something 'normal,' that can get her mind off her illness. Why not ask what the person wants to do for fun? And, if it turns out the person does want to talk about blood cancer (and maybe even cry), please listen.

What can I do to make this easier for you?

Honestly, there is no answer to this question really. All you can do is assure her that you still think of her the same way, that you are there to offer support and will not run for the hills because you can’t hack dealing with the situation. The nicest thing someone said to me early on was: “You are still the same Susan.”

I don’t look the same. I don’t feel the same. That loss of control is very difficult to accept. It’s an on-going process but the fact that a friend reassured me in that way meant a lot. Maybe it would help you to hear it too.

How are you feeling today?

As time goes on, I suppose the only question I would like to hear from time to time is 'How are you feeling today?' Just because months or even years go by, it doesn’t mean that the person’s health should be ignored. It should never be minimized or put on the back burner because you assume the initial crisis is done and the person should be “over it.”

I don’t know when the last time was I heard this question. Unfortunately, for most of us, the situation lasts a while, maybe forever.

It may feel a little awkward at first to see the patient. For example, her appearance may have changed. Just know she may feel apprehensive and afraid of being judged.

The best thing you can do is treat her normally. Be kind. Stick around. In the long run, neither of you will regret it.

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