As an oncology nurse, I remember taking care of young adult cancer patients who had told me when they were first diagnosed that their friends had visited, called, and gave them lots of attention. But as the months of treatment continued, some of their friends were nowhere to be found. Cancer definitely changes a person’s community. You just don’t know how people are going to respond.
I was grateful that when I was diagnosed with cancer, I had overwhelming support. My friends, family and co-workers surrounded me with calls, cards, prayers and love. However, there was one friend who never reached out to me. It was a shock and it hurt. As time went on, I came to realize that sometimes people don’t know what to say or how to respond. Maybe the fear they have is overwhelming and having a friend with cancer reminds them of their own mortality which they don’t want to think about. Or, their coping style is avoiding. It was also interesting to see that people who barely knew me would do the nicest things to help (send me flowers, cards, inspirational messages, even crocheted me a blanket-all very meaningful and helped uplift my spirits). Now that I’m a survivor, I’ve had many people ask me for advice on what to say to someone who is newly diagnosed. My response is to tell them you are sorry, or send them a card if that’s better. Give examples of how you’d like to help: picking up groceries, driving them to doctor’s appointments, drop off a care package, give them a journal, let them know you are praying for them, make meals for the family, and the list goes on. Also, allow them time to process what they are going through. Honor where they are on the journey.