What to Do & Say When Someone you love is Diagnosed with Cancer

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An Individual doesn’t get cancer, a Family gets cancer.

I didn’t know how true this statement was until one particular person in my family told us the devastating news. First thought, what can I do, what should I say, what shouldn’t I say? How can I help someone with cancer? Then, as the realization set in it occurred to me, we’re over 1,200 miles away, with jobs/careers, kids, a house to maintain. We can’t just drop everything and go, and even if we did, what could we do? So, here’s what I’ve learned during this journey . . .


What to Expect:

The first step is understanding what you can expect to see your loved one go through physically. Some of the following symptoms are due to cancer itself and some are due to the side effects of the treatment. Just as each person is unique, so are the variety of symptoms they may endure. Here are the most frequent and common:

  • Hair loss, including eyebrows and eyelashes
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Appetite loss or increase
  • Changes in how things taste or smell
  • Extreme tiredness (known as fatigue)
  • Pale skin and lips, or changes in skin color
  • Disfigurement (such as the loss of a limb or a breast or impotence)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with sleep
  • Poor concentration (often referred to as chemo brain)

Fatigue is most often the most overwhelming and difficult side effect to cope with both during and after treatment as it can linger for many months after treatments end.

Emotional Changes:

People react differently to the news, some immediately go into “Fight” mode, ready to battle cancer, some grieve, each person is vastly different, but what I can tell you is that these emotional reactions can literally change hour by hour, and they vacillate between each of the following:

  • Anger
  • A sense of lack of control
  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Grief
  • Guilt
  • Mood swings
  • Uncertainty
  • Much stronger and more intense feelings
  • A sense of being disconnected or isolated from others
  • Loneliness
  • Resentment

What Not to Say

It may be tempting to say things like, “I understand how you feel” or “I know what you’re going through”, unless you literally just went through it yourself, personally, please don’t say these things. You don’t know, You don’t understand, you didn’t live it, you aren’t fighting it- and even if you’ve had cancer, yours is not the same.

Everyone’s journey is different, each has their own difficulties. Also, don’t ask, “what can I do” because that leaves them to think of ways you can help. They have enough to think about.

What You Should Say:

Here are some things you CAN and Should say,

About Liss 4023 Articles
Melissa Burnell, known to her friends and fans as "Liss," grew up in Southern Maine, now residing in sunny South Carolina. As a busy Wife, Mother of two sons, an avid photographer, and self-employed entrepreneur, Liss understands the value of both time and money.

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