My wife, Sally, has cancer. Actually, I should say, she is overcoming cancer... and doing a great job of it too. She is finding joy on her cancer journey. She looks for joy. She chooses joy. And she gives joy to others. She has bad days and is honest about them when they come, but, her focus is on the good things that God does for her in the midst of her journey. She and I both pray for a miracle but we also keep our focus on the goodness of God. Sally and I are grateful for the support of loving friends. We have a very caring family (though a long way from where we live in Cape Town – they are in the United States). We are loved and cared for by an incredible spiritual family too. Friends, family and co-workers have made the emotional load of cancer much lighter to carry.
I have learned that there is an emotional weight for both the cancer survivor, and the spouse/care giver.
Some people understand that weight, and help lighten the load, while others say or do dumb things to make the load a little heavier. Fortunately for Sally and I, we have had very little of the latter, but friends have told us stories... I thought you would enjoy these all too real faux pas.
What not to say...
1. “My___ (sister, nephew, auntie, etc.) has cancer". Having someone else in your life with Cancer doesn’t help to comfort this person nor does it help you connect emotionally with them... especially if your person didn’t survive!
My advice: Don’t mention others you know who have cancer.
2. “I had cancer and I found this amazing herbal remedy that helped so much. I think it cured me! It only cost $150 a bottle.” Vitamins, supplements and proven helps are a blessing if they are a gift. But ask if you can give them. Don’t promote or propose weird solutions or remedies that you or somebody else you know used.
My advice: Don’t give medical advice.
3. “Did you know that cancer is caused by a root of bitterness? Is there anybody you need to forgive? Forgiveness releases healing from cancer.” At this point it would be hard not to feel bitterness toward you!
My advice: Ask them to leave.
4. “God will heal you if you have more faith.” Enough said.
My advice: Ask them to leave.
5. “Wow, you lost your hair.” Duh. If someone says something awkward about losing your hair they normally accompany the statement with rude staring.
My advice: Be gracious and change the subject.
6. “Did you know cancer is caused by eating processed foods?”
My response: “Then bring me a steak from free-range beef.”
7. “I brought you a gift. I just love jig-saw puzzles. I think you will love this 5000 piece puzzle of a herd of 500 Zebras! I think it will be so relaxing for you and take your mind off...well, just enjoy it.”
My advice: Don’t give gifts you are not sure will be helpful or wanted. Especially Zebra puzzles!
8. “God told me you don’t have cancer!”
My advice: Don’t say that. Pray for that, but don’t say it.
9. “Drink five glasses a day of wild-grass smoothies mixed with Mongolian mushrooms. Tastes great and it works wonders. It does give you gas and bad constipation and stomach cramps, but it works.”
My response: “Wild what?!!!”
Good to know: Don’t hug a person on chemo or allow anyone to visit them who has a cold, flu, etc., or who has a family member who is sick. Chemo treatment weakens the immune system and makes a person more vulnerable. A cold or flu can throw off the chemo treatment schedule and put a person at greater risk for the chemo not to have its intended impact of killing off cancer cells.
What to say...
Below are some things our friends have said or done for us that are a huge blessing. Just this morning my friend Archie told me his daughter Kaylee prays for Sally every day! Here’s a few suggestions...
1. Tell the person you care for them and you love them. It nourishes one’s heart. 2. Say you are praying – if you are. It always encourages us to hear that. 3. Ask how they are doing. There are stories to tell! 4. If the person has lost their hair, compliment them on how cute they look, and move on to another topic. 5. Listen a lot. 6. Talk about life. Laugh. Catch up on family, and be yourself. Talk about movies you’ve seen, books you have read, people you know in common. Talk about everyday life. 7. Bring a meal – but ask what kind of food they like ahead of time. 8. Write encouraging notes, SMS’s/text messages, and send uplifting scriptures. 9. Give them flowers. They fill a bedroom or house with beauty.
If you want to know more, here are three books that have been very helpful to us:
The Chemotherapy Survival Guide, by Judith McKay and Tamara Schacher. This book was written by two oncology nurses and was immensely helpful and medically very informative. Describes what chemotherapy is, preparing for treatment, preventing and coping with side affects, eating right for recovery, getting the support you need, relieving stress, preparing for and managing care, and living life after cancer treatment.
Caring for a Loved One With Cancer, by June Hunt. Fifty very practical, 1-2 page chapters filled with ideas about how to care for a friend or family member with cancer.
Healed: Strength for Care Givers and Cancer Fighters, by Angela Peterson. More from the faith angle but without condemnation. Uplifting.