I know that there are people that want to talk about cancer or other illnesses. In my experience, the people I love that have dealt with the big C and other big scary life illnesses really don’t want to spend all day talking about it though. People often don’t know what to say or say the wrong things. As someone that has been a support system (and needed one due to loved ones dealing with this) I wanted to write this for awhile, but unfortunately a friend is dealing with cancer and I am reminded of how important it is to stay positive and not let everything become about the cancer.
Part of why I am generally private with loved ones going through this awfulness is to respect their own privacy, but I think back to a few years ago when I had a big surgery and I hardly told anyone. I didn’t want the attention. I didn’t want everything to be about what I was dealing with and to be honest I was scared and didn’t want to think about it more.
My advice is this. If you are talking about cancer (or another serious illness) you don’t need to make light of it to avoid being doom and gloom. You should take your cue from your loved one. I told someone years later about someone I love having had cancer and they blurted out “Did they die?!” I thought, ‘No, but thanks for that reminder of why I didn’t tell many people when she did have it as that would have been devastating beyond words.’ The people with and around someone with cancer are thinking about this plenty.
But you don’t have to stay silent either. You can acknowledge it and move on. What you can do is treat them like you would before (unless you weren’t nice and then just be nice, be real, but be nice). This goes for the close loved ones as well. If they want to talk about it listen, but if they don’t bring it up consider that maybe they just don’t want to think about it. You can ask how they are doing, but don’t force the topic. I always appreciated people checking in with me and I know my loved ones did too, but just as much I appreciated that they would let me drop the topic or let me be the one to bring it up sometimes.
Laughter is so vitally important to healing and dealing with hard times. Getting your mind off of these things is so needed. If you really want to help…help someone laugh. One of my loved ones told me of another cancer fighter she became friends with and said “You know…we never have actually talked about cancer. We just talk about silly things that make us laugh.” They also told me they were so happy that they could just have a normal conversation with me and that she was so sick of people just wanting to talk about cancer as if she stopped existing and now her only identity was having cancer. The concern was of course appreciated, but it was so nice for her to just be able to relax and laugh.
These things are never easy, but truthfully a good portion of the time when people are going through rough stuff they really need to not think about it and feel at least a bit of normality. It isn’t that you can’t talk about cancer or whatever the problem is, rather, it is that the person you knew did not stop existing and that person probably could use a laugh.
If you really are stuck for what to say, how about send them a greeting card or watch a Disney movie. We are NEVER too old for Disney. And if they aren’t super awesome and love Disney watch something else. Just let the person know you care and nothing says that better than laughter!
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