Five Things Friday – Please don’t say this to a breast cancer patient!
When someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer, their emotions will probably be right there on the surface. They may be confused, angry, worried about their family, and just plain scared. In short, they are vulnerable. It may be difficult to find the right words and you may be scared and confused yourself.
While you may struggle with how to respond, there are definitely things that someone with breast cancer DOES NOT want to hear.
If you are told by a friend or family member that they have breast cancer, please refrain from saying any of these unhelpful things:
1. You don’t look sick.
People who look okay on the outside may not be okay on the inside. Don’t downplay a serious illness. The person may not be lying in bed attached to tubes and wires, but they ARE sick with a life-changing disease. When you say, “You don’t look sick,” you may be trying to comfort them, but it is far better to acknowledge their situation than to diminish the impact it is having on them and their loved ones.
2. Stay positive! Everything will be okay.
Who are you trying to convince? With a daunting treatment regimen ahead of them, a breast cancer patient may try to maintain a positive attitude, but unless you have been through it, you can’t know how hard it is to endure it. A woman or man with breast cancer is concerned about getting through the day. They are worried about their family and medical bills. The hard truth is that you don’t know whether everything will be okay. Uncertainty is part of the process.
3. Don’t believe the doctors. They don’t know everything. You should try (fill in the blank with some trendy herb, therapy, yoga, or supplement).
Some people would rather believe in miracle cures, rather than the real miracle – modern medicine. Real progress is being made every day to find better therapies for breast cancer. Of course, the goal is a complete cure, but until that happens, advances in treatments such as targeted gene therapy are offering real successes. Unproven treatments delay and may hinder the effectiveness of scientifically proven therapies. Modern medicine has driven the survival rate for breast cancer to more than 90% in the U.S. When someone tells you they have breast cancer, don’t try to shake their trust in their health care team.
4. Let me know if you need anything.
This is a well-meant phrase that may help the speaker feel better through an offer to help, but it does nothing for someone diagnosed with breast cancer. It puts the burden on the patient to determine how you can help them. Instead, offer something specific: You might say, “I’m bringing you dinner tonight.” Or, you might offer to drive them to appointments and treatments. Vacuum their house, wash their car, run errands, or pick up the kids from school. Be creative – it will be greatly appreciated and remembered.
When confronted by the news that a friend or loved one has breast cancer, please don’t ignore it. It is best to acknowledge it before it becomes the elephant in the room. A simple hug, or a specific offer of help as mentioned above in number 4 will go a long way toward bringing comfort to the person facing the disease.
So how do you support someone with breast cancer?
How about a simple: “I cannot imagine what you are going through.” Accept her or his choices for treatment and offer to attend appointments. Take your friend to lunch or to a movie. Send cards or texts just to let the person know you are thinking of them. “You are always in my thoughts,” is a comforting thing to say.
Reach out to Albie Aware for advice.
If you have a friend or loved one facing or fighting breast cancer, contact Albie Aware for suggestions on how to offer support and comfort.
These sources of information were referenced for this article: