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Caring for a Loved One with Cancer: Make the First Move and Speak Wisely

I remember missing Maureen at our Hope For The Heart staff retreat the day after I returned from New York City (a week after confirmation of my diagnosis of breast cancer). I wondered why she wasn’t there since she had always faithfully attended in the past. I later learned that she felt too awkward because she didn’t know what to say. While she felt guilty for staying away, she also felt uneasy coming close. So I made the first move toward her.

Pam also avoided me, not because she was at a loss for words, but because my illness reminded her of her mother’s recent death from cancer. Seeing me became a trigger of painful memories rising in her heart and mind, so she sought personal protection by keeping her distance. Again, I made the first move toward her, and gave her a mug with a meaningful message: “Embrace the beauty of silent moments and simple things.” And I know she was glad.

Therefore, don’t avoid those with cancer. And tell your loved ones, “Don’t take it personally if someone fails to respond, viewing it as rejection of you, but rather view it as a reaction to cancer. Some people worry that they might upset you by saying the wrong thing. You can help them by talking openly with them. This can help alleviate their worry and fear.”

Don’t take it personally if someone fails to respond, viewing it as rejection of you, but rather view it as a reaction to cancer.

When you first hear the news that someone has cancer, even if you feel at a loss for words, don’t hesitate to call to say, “I’m so sorry. I care. I’m here for you and I’m praying for God’s wisdom, healing, and peace for you.”

Some people withdraw from their loved ones who have cancer because they don’t know what to say or because it stirs up painful memories or because it’s too painful to face. Instead, simply say, “I’m so sorry; I really don’t know what to say.” These words are sufficient—the conversation will naturally proceed from there. Meanwhile, you’ve let your loved one know you care.

If someone you know has cancer, don’t tell bad experiences about a hospital stay or negative stories about a treatment. Instead of speaking words of horror, speak words of hope: “I know God will give you strength for whatever you need to endure. I’m praying for God’s peace to be present within you, every single day.”

This article is adapted from Caring for a Loved One with Cancer by June Hunt.

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