Not Necessarily a Death Sentence!

Woman gossipThere was one class of visitors I found depressing and stressful when I was going through my own treatment for cancer. Contrary to the ones who didn’t know what to say, they seemed to know exactly what to talk about. Your friend is going to meet them too.

They talked about cancer . . . other people’s cancer. Normally the objects of their conversation were dying as the treatment was ineffective, or they were already dead. I would watch as my visitor’s eyes would light up, followed by the words, “That reminds me of . . . ” and I would learn of someone he or she knew personally who had died of cancer, often after wrong treatment or a long debilitating time in treatment.

Actually, the last thing anyone with cancer wants to discuss is someone else’s treatment or death! Yet it seemed rude to tell them to keep their stories to themselves. Your friend will be uplifted to hear that “My Aunt Bobby had cancer ten years ago and she’s still going strong.” But she doesn’t  want to hear “Poor Aunt Suzie had cancer just like yours, and even though she went through all this terrible treatment, she died in the end. It was too dreadful!”

A close match to these visitors are those who appear to be so upset your friend would be justified in thinking she had three days to live. The news may be bad. She is probably well aware of that. But a visitor who sits with a tissue pressed to tearful eyes, unable to talk for sobs and sniffs, does nothing to encourage her to feel better about her chances.

A diagnosis of cancer is nerve-wracking enough, without having visitors who feel the need to add to the stress. If your friend has cancer, don’t try to avoid the subject unless they indicate they want you to—but for goodness sake, don’t try to tell them how hopeless their situation is. They need your encouragement, not your discouragement. Sadly, many people pass away from cancer. BUT many also survive! Presume your friend is going to survive and speak accordingly.  

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16 comments on “Not Necessarily a Death Sentence!

  1. Well said! Might I share the other side, hopefully without being too much of a downer. If the person with cancer has been given the news it is stage 4, even if they can expect to have several years, not only do you need to avoid the cancer death stories, but please avoid the false positives. By that I mean things like, “just stay positive and you will beat this” or “Aunt Susie had cancer (not stage 4) and lived to 95.” Basically, talk to us about life – your grandkids, hobbies, books, job, the latest movie you saw…..or better yet, invite us to come along to the movie. If we want to talk about cancer, listen, but don’t push or judge.

    • Oh absolutely Elizabeth. Thank you for saying this. I don’t see this as a downer. I totally agree with you. Even a Stage 1 diagnosis is not good news. We need to be careful what we say at all times. Thanks for your visit and your comment.

  2. You know the old saying, “If you can’t say anything positive, say nothing at all.’
    This should apply to ANYONE who is visiting someone undergoing treatment of any kind. We need to be a lot more sensitive to other folks situations.

  3. Ohhh, how I can relate to this!! Well written Shirl! Strangely, the same people – years later – still seem to remember to come and tell you more stories about relatives and friends…can you believe it?? I hope and trust your post will help many.

    • Wow, what a super surprise to hear from you guys. Thank you so much. It’s been quite a job, but as long as it helps someone along the line it’s all worth it.

  4. “Actually, the last thing anyone with cancer wants to discuss is someone else’s treatment or death! ”
    I do agree — I’ve had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma twice and one needs EVERY bit of encouragement!!

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