I’ve seen a lot of items on blogs lately listing the silly things that people say to cancer patients. This issue rears its ugly head every so often. I will not stop commenting on all of those blogs that we need a list of snappy, or thought provoking (as in silencing the person who makes the comment) comebacks that we cancer patients can use when it happens. I wish such a tool had been handy for me upon diagnosis.
Until then, I do have some advice for those who ask, “What can we say to our loved ones with cancer?”
Don’t say anything, it is no longer your turn to talk. It IS your turn to listen.
I grew up around lots of talkers. All the women in my family talk so much I rarely get a word in edgewise. And because some branches of the family hail from a Dixie state, they inherited that speech pattern of Southerners…in which it takes forever and a damn day to arrive at the point…that is, if they ever get there. Don’t believe me? Read the essays of my favorite humorist, Celia Rivenbark–she explains far better than I ever could. (Just look for her books with awesome titles like “Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank”, or “You Can’t Drink All Day If You Don’t Start In the Morning”–these books pulled me out of my post-treatment depression). Finally, at the ripe age of 41, I am able to say to my mother, when she interrupts me for the 100th time to jump off from something I said, midstream, to a point I was NOT heading for: “will you shut up and let me finish my damn thought for once!”
This inability to be able to finish thoughts without being interrupted is probably why I start blogging. Hmm. But, like a good Southern raised girl, I digressed, didn’t I?
The point is, cancer patients will usually ask for it if they need an actual answer. (Not always, however, and sadly, that is where it gets tricky.) When a cancer patient begins honestly expressing his or her fears, please, I beg of you, do NOT answer with those hollow platitudes like “Think positive” or “I’m sure it will be all right.” No, it is not alright and do not tell us how to think. No one is allowed to tell another how to think. Ever. Period. End of discussion.
Again, this is the time that YOU listen to the patient. If you think their thoughts are going in a dangerous direction, get professional help, for pete’s sake, do not tell them to just cheer up and think positive, you are so not helping if you do. If they are dangerously depressed, those trite comments are absolutely useless.
Don’t speak. Listen.