Let me be frank here. There are well meaning people out there who just want to help during a health crisis, but undeniably make some half-witted comments. It's not that they don't have your best intentions at heart or don't speak the same language as us, it's just that they can't help themselves. I understand, I've been on both sides of the cancer coin, so these situations are undoubtedly chock-full of awkward moments. So, in an attempt to keep you from being baffled and flustered any further during your next encounter with a cancer patient (that would be me), let me help you out a bit.
DON'T - Break down uncontrollably with the ugly cry so that the cancer patient has to console YOU!
DO! Show emotion, compassion, care. Let a tear or two run down your cheek. It shows you are real and empathetic to our situation.
DON'T - Tell a cancer patient to "Just think positive!" Do you honestly think that we are not doing everything in our power to stay positive? Do you know how many times a day I'm am trying to find my 'happy place' through staring at the clouds, meditating and smelling flowers?
DO! Say - that you are sending your most positive thoughts and energy our way.
DON'T - Make cancer jokes! This is reserved IF and ONLY the cancer patient makes the joke first! (That would be me...not you!).
DO! Smile and express your mirth at all of our jokes. Shows you have a sense of humor in our situation and that you are indeed paying attention!
DON'T - Say "Well, you look good!" The cancer is not on my face! It's in my boob! Of course I look good! I still do my hair and make-up everyday and try to dress in my Sunday best. OK, well that won't be true once I come out of surgery but still, DON'T say that!
DO! Ask us how we are feeling today? It's simple. It's short. It's not awkward.
DON'T - Tell me about your aunt's horrible-cancer-situation-gone-bad-story! I. Don't. Want. To. Hear. About. It! It's depressing AND....it's not MY situation.
DO! Tell us something inspiring. How well your aunt did with her new 'girls.' How the Kale juicing really helped give her energy. A wonderfully, inspiring book you've read. Anything, but the bad stories where someone died!
DON'T - Do nothing, say nothing. Ignoring a cancer patient and their diagnosis is just the worst. It not only hurts our feelings and makes it seem like you don't care, but it actually makes you look a tad insensitive.
DO! Something! Don't just ignore us, drop us a line, a text, a post-it note for Pete's sake. Let us know that you care. Write one, simple line, it doesn't matter, but say something!
DON'T - Minimize cancer like it's the common cold and say things like "Look at the bright side of things, you get two new perky breasts, I'm so jealous." Really?! DON'T say that either.
DO! Validate. Validate. Validate. This is a scarier-than-heck situation we have on our hands here. Just leave it at that and say something like "I don't know what to say, but please know how much we are thinking of you during this time." No pity party, no downplaying, just validating.