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Having The Cancer Conversation

A cancer diagnosis is never a fun thing to go through. Not just for the person receiving the news, but their loved ones, friends and family who will all be affected too. Just the word ‘cancer’ has a lot of negativity and emotion attached to it, and often it can cause people to react in ways you wouldn’t expect. Normally open, chatty people can clam up, the laid-back become anxious and highly strung, or the stoically reliable suddenly fall apart.

That initial conversation about a cancer diagnosis can be incredibly difficult and awkward, and some people just don’t know what to say to someone who has cancer. Or how to start up a conversation with them moving forward in their journey. Regardless of how you feel about it, those conversations need to happen. When a loved one receives a cancer diagnosis they need your support, care and love from the moment they receive the news. So, here are some tips to help you show your support and make that ‘cancer conversation’ a bit easier.

Take Your Cues From Them

Receiving a cancer diagnosis affects everyone differently, and not everyone will react to it in the same way. Some will want to talk about it a lot as a way of processing the news, some will appear quite flippant about the diagnosis, while others will want to clam up and act like nothing is wrong. These are all valid ways to respond to a diagnosis, and as their friend or family member, it’s your job to help them through this challenging time. The best way you can do that is to ask them what they want and respect that decision. Ask them if they would like to talk about the experience. This allows the person with cancer to decide if they want to talk, when, and how much they want to share.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It’s often difficult to find the right words when someone breaks the news of a cancer diagnosis. It’s a big life change with pretty significant implications after all. But the words you use can have a huge impact on the person with cancer and your relationship moving forward. Make sure you acknowledge how difficult this experience is for them, and find a way of showing your support without being dismissive or avoiding the topic. For example, if you’re struggling with what to say, it’s better to tell them “I don’t know what to say” than to stop calling or visiting out of fear. You also want to avoid phrases like “I know how you feel”, “I’m sure you’ll be fine”, “How long do you have”, or “Don’t worry” – none of them are helpful and will only make things worse.

A few positive things you can say to show your support include:

  • I’m sorry this has happened to you.

  • If you ever want to talk, I’m here to listen

  • I care about you

  • What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help?

  • I’m thinking of you

  • What do you need?

Ask Before You Give Advice

Let’s face it, not many people are fans of unsolicited advice! But for someone with cancer, it can be a real sore spot. It’s likely that they have been reading about their illness everywhere they can, perhaps talking to others with cancer in support groups and asking questions of their doctor. They are probably more clued up on cancer than almost anyone else! So, offering unsolicited advice can just add unnecessary stress to their life. That’s not to say you can’t give advice or make suggestions – but simply ask if it’s OK to give advice before you actually give it. If they’re open to hearing it – great! But if they don’t prompt you to continue, be prepared to stop.

Think Twice About Questions

You probably have a lot of questions about cancer, the journey, the treatments and all sorts of other things, particularly if it’s someone close to you who has cancer. But it’s always worth thinking twice about any questions you might ask, and phrasing them carefully before you do. You don’t want to cause offence with your questions, so asking them in a sensitive way is important. It’s also worth considering the number of questions you ask too. Many people with cancer will be inundated with questions from friends and family members, and it can become tiresome.

Ask If Practical Support Would Be Helpful

Offer practical support in any way you can, but try to be specific about what you offer. If you simply say ‘if you need anything just ask’, most people won’t ask for help (even if they need it). It’s too vague. Instead, when you offer your support, suggest something you could do during their cancer journey, and if they sound helpful. A few ideas you could suggest include:

  • Running errands

  • Caring for/feeding pets

  • Driving them to appointments

  • Picking children from school

  • Doing the shopping

If there are a few different people volunteering to help, maybe offer to coordinate everyone’s efforts so it doesn’t fall to the person with cancer instead. This is often much more successful than offering blanket support, especially for people who have a hard time asking for help.

And if you think they would appreciate it, you can always book a free holiday for them in our holiday home. At Jill’s Fundraising Journey we offer free holiday accommodation for those affected by a cancer diagnosis and their family, so that they can have some time away from ‘the cancer talks’ and enjoy making some memories. If you’d like to know more, or book your free holiday, just get in touch with us today, or click here to view the accommodation.


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