When you are considering a visit to a friend or loved one who is being treated for cancer, it is important to be aware of the language you use, but also to be sensitive to the needs and limitations of the patient you are visiting.
First and foremost, if you are healthy, show up. If not, stay away until you are not contagious of anything. You could be the patients only connection to the healthy outside world today. This glimpse into the world outside could be the touchstone necessary to keep your loved one in a place of hope today. Simply by showing up can be the key.
Also, be sure to portion any food you bring into manageable portions. When the sick person is thinking about the big casserole in the refrigerator later on, it is likely to feel like too much to do–too big. It’s possible s/he is just not capable of lifting, preheating, cooking, getting it back out of the oven, cutting and plating this food. The food is critical to recovery, but the rest of it just feels too big to execute– so it sits in the refrigerator and spoils. And that adds to the stress of recuperation. Now they have to keep track of the new and the old in there–let alone the clean up.
So, showing up, portioning, plating and cleaning the refrigerator of old, moldy and dangerous well meaning sent casseroles and foods could make you the hero of the day for this sick friend.
It’s important to note that sometimes people don’t want to have company because it feels so big to have to have people over. It feels too big if you don’t have that support system–no one to answer the door, offer a beverage, make small talk that you don’t feel like making etc…
HOWEVER, if you can be that support system for someone, you are a true friend and you will be helping a lot–even when it feels like you’re not. It is not ever required of you to be there for someone. This is an act of giving. If you can give an hour, then your friend who is ill can count on you to be that support for one hour.
Let them know. Show up. That’s all.
There are two types of language that surround the cancer diagnosis. The language that the doctors speak to you in, and the language you speak with your friends about the situation. Both need to be minded carefully.
For example, whenever a medical provider referred to my situation as “Your cancer,” I would either wince, or I would gently ask them to not give me ownership of that situation. I mean, yes I had been given a diagnosis of stage 2 grade 2 cancer, but to me, it was going to be “out” soon, so why would I want to own that? Why would I begin to identify with this deadly disease that would soon be a part of my past? If you are a medical provider, consider the words you use and if those words could be programming an unintended relationship between the patient and the illness. My friend Michael Ellner wrote a book for health care providers called “Hope is Realistic” https://www.amazon.com/Hope-Realistic-Physicians-Patients-Suffering/dp/1478300477 several years back that gives more detail about the unconscious mind and how it is influenced by words-particularly words from medical practitioners.
And as a side note, another way the medical community can change lives is by NOT using male pronouns to refer to doctors and medical specialists. This goes from the pharmacists to the surgeons. It really does perpetuate a stereotype that continues to keep our young ladies from being seen as successful professionals.
The second type of language that we deal with is the language we use with our friends, and that they use with us. Most of the reasons given as to why friends back out of visiting or saying something to a friend or loved one who is stricken is that they just did not know what to say. So to those of you who are dealing with this situation right now, if you have a loved one or friend who is suffering, and you are avoiding them because you don’t know what to say, I say, don’t worry about it. Show up. Say nothing. Say “I don’t know what to say.” But show up. Bring a magazine, a juice box, a bouquet of weeds. It doesn’t matter. Just show up.