Dealing With Cancer: Friendly Advice

1. Listen

Express your concern and offer to be there, then step back and
listen. If a patient wants to talk, don’t offer advice or make
assumptions. “If you’re asking a question, it should end in a question
mark so they can answer it,” says survivor Stef Woods. “If you’re making
statements—like ‘You’re out and about, so you must be feeling better’—then
you already think you know and it shuts us down.”

2. Protect the Patient’s Privacy

Most people want a say in what information is shared. “We don’t
want to have info about us wandering the halls of the workplace,” says
Jessie Gruman, author of AfterShock: What to Do When the Doctor Gives
You—or Someone You Love—a Devastating Diagnosis.
“This is our illness
and our experience, and we should get to say how it’s heard by others.”
Two questions to ask of the patient: Whom do you want to know this? What
do you want that person to know?

3. Follow the Patient’s Lead

Once you’ve acknowledged the illness and offered support, ask
how the patient wants you to handle it—checking in daily, asking about it,
or diverting the subject? If it’s a difficult topic for you, be honest and
say, “I don’t know what to say or do, but I care about you and just want
you to know that.”

4. If You Offer to Help, be Specific

Instead of saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,”
ask, “When do you want me to pick up the kids?” or “Are you having any
cravings?” This is the time to be proactive instead of

The following four websites can make it easier for friends to
know how to help:

CarePages and
CaringBridge. At each of these, a
personalized website can be created for a patient, who can then keep in
touch by posting updates and photographs without expending the energy it
takes for constant telephone and e-mail interactions. Friends can send
encouraging notes and coordinate visits and everyday

Take Them a Meal. Create an online sign-up sheet with food preferences, allergies, and driving
directions so anyone who wants to help out by cooking dinner can do so

Lotsa Helping Hands. A
spouse, friend, or other caregiver can set up a Help Calendar to let
people sign up for tasks such as providing transportation or cooking


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