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What Do Cancer Patients Really Want To Hear?

When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, it’s a huge, life-changing thing. And it’s completely normal to not know how to react to the news, or what to say to them. You want to let them know how much you care, and that you’re there for them, but everything feels hollow or somehow superficial. Finding the right words is hard for everyone, but studies have shown that cancer patients with strong emotional support tend to adjust better to the changes the disease brings to their life, having a more positive outlook and a better quality of life. Which is why showing your support can make a huge difference to someone with cancer. So here are a few suggestions of what you can say, and how you can be there for your loved one through their cancer journey.

‘I Don’t Know What To Say, But I’m Here For You.’

It’s OK to not know what to say. It’s normal, and every cancer patient knows it. So rather than struggle to come up with the right words (and end up saying nothing), tell them you aren’t sure what to say, but you are there to support them in any way you can. Cancer patients often experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially when friends and family don’t visit as much because they don’t know what to say.

So don’t avoid the situation. Show up, and show your support. Be honest that you aren’t sure what to say, but you’re there for them. That’s honestly the best thing they can hear from you.

‘Let Me Help you With…’

Cancer and its treatments for it can take a toll on even the most independent person. It can take people from being able to handle everything themselves to needing constant help from others. But hearing ‘what can I do?’ can be draining, and a constant reminder that they need support. Which leads many people to decline help they actually need out of politeness and shame. So instead of asking the broad question ‘what can I help with’, try choosing something specific and getting started on it. There are a lot of different things you can do to help that would be greatly appreciated, including:

  • Running errands

  • Providing cooked meals

  • Babysit their children

  • Take dogs on walks

  • Clean their home

  • Do some gardening

  • Fill up the fridge

  • Drive them to and from appointments

  • Pick up prescriptions

  • Help them make to-do lists

  • Sit with them while they make important calls

Taking care of specifics like this will alleviate a lot of stress, and make life a lot easier for the cancer patient in your life.

‘What Else Is Going On?’

Sometimes, cancer patients just want to forget that they have cancer. They would rather talk about anything else in the world, yet it seems to be all the people around them want to talk about. So asking them questions about something other than cancer can mean an awful lot. Simple things like ‘what else has been up with you lately?’, ‘have you seen X film or TV show?’ or even talking about work can be a huge relief. Having normal, everyday conversation is often the best gift you can give a cancer patient who’s desperately trying to feel normal again.

‘Let’s Celebrate!’

You might not think that someone with cancer has a lot to celebrate, but it’s important to remember that their life hasn’t ended because of the diagnosis. Celebrating positive emotions is a big part of cancer recovery, so make sure you help them to celebrate milestones, or even ordinary events. Whether they got a promotion at work, reached a big wedding anniversary or completed their chemo treatment, help them keep their spirits up by celebrating and enjoying that part of their journey. Never assume they want to skip a birthday just because they’re sick. Make accommodations or bring the party to them, and use it as an opportunity to shower them with love and positivity.

At Jill’s Fundraising Journey, we’ve all been through the ‘not knowing what to say’ stage, and we know how hard it can be. We also know how difficult it can be to find time to make memories when everything is suddenly moving so quickly, and time feels more limited. That’s why we run Jill’s Place. It’s a place for families with a cancer diagnosis to put the world on pause and enjoy themselves, make memories and find a bit of respite. If you, or anyone you know would benefit from a free holiday at Jill’s Place, just click here to find out more and book.


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