By 2020, almost one in two people (47 per cent) will get cancer at some point in their lives, which means that even if you don’t get diagnosed with cancer yourself, the sad likelihood is that someone you know will.
And when a friend or family member has cancer, it’s very hard to know what to say. Often, people feel uncomfortable so either make inappropriate comments or say nothing at all, neither of which are helpful for the person facing cancer.
Many cancer support groups have offered advice on talking to someone with cancer, including the Cancer Treatment Center of America, who shared a list of tips.
Here’s what you should never say:
1. “How are you?”
Although it might seem like a thoughtful, caring question, asking a cancer patient how they are can seem intrusive - what are they supposed to say?
2. Overly optimistic comments
When you have cancer, you don’t need a cheerleader. What’s more, upbeat comments like “You’ll be fine” can make a patient feel guilty if they can’t stay positive. Dr. Stan Goldberg, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer aged 57, explained that “False optimism devalued what was going on in my body.”
3. “At least you lost some weight!”
Joking about someone’s physical changes is not helpful.
4. Comparing to someone else’s cancer
Each cancer is different so even if your uncle did survive the disease, saying that won’t help.
5. “You’re lucky it’s not a worse type of cancer”
Although intended to be cheery, downplaying someone’s cancer will not make them feel good - there is nothing even remotely lucky about having cancer.
6. Asking about prognosis
It’s fine to discuss prognosis if the patient is forthcoming, but it’s better not to ask in case they don’t want to talk about it.
7. Your own feelings of distress
By all means, tell your friend you’re sorry they’re facing cancer, but try not to get too emotional or upset. And if you don’t know what to say, it’s best to say just that than avoid the person completely.
13 ways to help prevent cancer
13 ways to help prevent cancer
Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year
Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it
A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women
Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes
Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year
Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own
Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups
Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year
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Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers
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Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers
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Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research
Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year
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Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer
So what should you say?
According to Dr. Goldberg, it’s most useful to offer concrete help. Don’t say “Let me know what I can do to help,” but rather “I’ll make dinner for you one day this week, what day works for you?”
Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, who has had a recurring cancer for more than two decades, agrees, explaining that it’s most helpful when people offer to do specific things like walking the dog or picking up food from the supermarket.
But more than anything, it’s most important just to listen to someone with cancer, not to talk. “Sometimes only a calm presence and compassionate listening are necessary,” said Dr. Goldberg.Reuse content