What to Say When a Family Member is Diagnosed with Cancer

What to Say When a Family Member is Diagnosed with Cancer

No one is ever prepared to learn that a family member has cancer. Neither is the loved one who just found out that they have cancer.  The flood of emotions that come over you upon hearing the news is overwhelming. Try to imagine how overcome your relative is with a myriad of emotions. Most people don’t know what to say or ask, but the following tips and advice can make it easier for you to talk to your family member.

1. Hold Your Tongue

Don’t speak in haste. One of the worst things you can do is say something without thinking. After you say it, you can’t take your words back. The risk of embarrassing yourself and hurting someone you love is too great. Never say anything without thinking carefully about your words before you speak.

2. Don’t Ask Cancer-Related Questions

Listen to your loved one. Allow him or her to be your guide. Don’t push them to reveal more details about their cancer than they’re comfortable sharing. Your communication with them will become easier as they become more comfortable sharing what they learn about their illness. Let them decide what they want to share with you.

3. Reaffirm Your Love and Support

Assure your relative that you love them and that you’re thinking about them. Remind them that you’re there for them and make a point of reinforcing the fact that they won’t have to go through cancer alone. If you don’t know what to say and feel awkward about that discomfort, admit to what you’re feeling.

4. Don’t Act Like You Understand What They’re Going Through

Everyone has a unique cancer experience, and there is no way you can know what your love one is thinking, feeling, or how they’re dealing with the experience. If you are a cancer survivor, accept that your experience is different.

5. Don’t Talk About Yourself or Your Problems

Don’t talk about your issues. If you’ve got a health issue, avoid mentioning it in any conversation. Don’t bring it up during an awkward silence. This is neither the time or place to talk about yourself or what you are experiencing. Even though you won’t intend to, you’ll come across as unsympathetic.

6. Never Compare Someone Else’s Cancer Experience with the One Your Loved One is Going Through

It’s never a good idea to bring up someone else or to try to compare your relative’s cancer with that of another person in your life. People cope in their own ways, and their cancer experiences will be as different as people themselves are.

7. Don’t Talk to Other People Unless You Are Asked to Do So

Trust is an essential foundation of any relationship. When it comes to relatives – regardless of what your family relationship is or how close you are to a recently diagnosed cancer patient, confidentiality is a big deal.

If you’re asked about your family member, you should politely explain that your relative will decide what to share and with whom to share it. Let the person know that you are sure that your loved one will appreciate their concern, and you’ll tell them that someone asked about them.

8. Express Your Willingness to “Be There” for the Cancer Patient

When words elude you, you can never go wrong by asking your relative if there is anything you can do for them. You can show your support in small ways. If you have kids who go to school with their children, offer to pick their children up and bring them home. Little things like running errands, offering to do laundry or grocery shopping allow your loved one to focus on cancer without having to worry about day-to-day household and family obligations.

Cancer patients are often concerned about transportation to treatment. Offer to drive them to their treatments and bring them home. Let them know that you’ll go to treatment sessions with them. Understand that the prospect of undergoing treatment and going through treatment is anxiety-provoking and stressful. They will appreciate your kindness and be grateful to you for relieving them of the transportation burden.

Sometimes the things you do are more important than what you say. Cards and gifts are an effective way to share your love and remind your family member that they’re not alone. You can reassure them and tell them that when it comes to beating cancer, No One Fights Alone!®

4 thoughts on “What to Say When a Family Member is Diagnosed with Cancer”

  1. Excellent advice, thanks for sharing. I’m a 5-year cancer survivor and have heard it all, both good and bad. Here’s some of my tips: 1. Listen more, say less. 2. Bring soup. 3. Let your loved one take the lead in conversation. 4. Don’t press for sensitive information, such as the stage of the disease or prognosis. 5. If you must Google, keep your findings to yourself. Every cancer case is extremely unique and beyond comparison. 6. Do not bombard your loved one with information. Let them absorb this new reality at their own pace. 7. Slow down. You will have time to figure this thing out and so will your beloved.

    1. My sister has recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer with liver mets. Came out of the blue and has already been classed as inoperable and untreatable. I have found that being present , not talking about minor problems, not looking at the news and focusing on grandkids , shared fun times , letting my sister lead the conversation helps in these awful times. Letting my sister know how much she is loved by everyone. My brother in law finds comfort in practical stuff – running errands, making tea. We don’t talk in terms of a cure , just living day by day and making the best of that day. Even if its a Netflix binge on the sofa, or sitting in the garden watching the birds. Sending warm wishes to everyone. From experience, I know that life can go on after cancer.

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