Thursday, October 2, 2014

What to do when someone you love says, “I have cancer”

It was once said that cancer is the scariest word in the English language. I agree with that statement. According to the American Cancer Society 3 out of 4 families will experience the tragedy of a family member being diagnosed with some form of cancer. If you include friends, coworkers, or people that we know only in passing, cancer touches the life of every single person in America at least once in their lifetime.

So what do we do when someone we care about tells us the bad news? There are no “perfect words” that we can say to someone that is battling this deadly disease. Aside from the initial shock, the worst part of receiving this type of news is probably the helplessness that we feel. We want to help, to do something, but what?

The first thing that you must do is to realize that you are not helpless. There are many ways to show your support and to assist your loved one in their struggle. According to actual cancer survivors, the list below represents what helped them the most during this difficult time in their lives and gave them what they needed the most, hope.

First Things First
The first priority for a person that has been diagnosed with cancer is to seek proper medical treatment. Motivating a loved one to take affirmative action at a time like this is the most compassionate and helpful gesture that you could possible make.Your words of encouragement and hope are more important than you can possibly imagine. 

It’s time to get a second opinion and to seek the best care available. There is an endless list of therapies as well as alternative treatments that are designed to compliment (not replace) time tested treatments. Talk about it together, research it on the internet, consult with professionals and make a definite plan of action. Where this is no action, there is no hope. Be proactive and help your loved one to do the same.

Just Be There
As I had mentioned in the beginning, there are no perfect words for a time like this. The truth is that what you say is not as important as what you hear. Listen to what your loved one has to say instead of trying to make everything right. Let them know that you are there for them. Support them in any way that you can, emotionally, spiritually and socially. Give them a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold and every ounce of your strength. You don’t need to perform a miracle; you simply need to be there.

Take it One Day at a Time
It is human nature to always look forward and forget to enjoy what we have today. My grandmother says that we should “take time to smell the roses”. This is good advice for everyone, not just those of us whom are ill. You can make a big difference by helping with everyday tasks such as preparing meals, running errands, sharing in the housework or if need be, taking care of the children. 

Concentrate on the small things that matter most and make each and every minute count. Help with scheduling issues and transportation whenever possible and be sure that someone accompanies your loved one to each and every treatment appointment that they have. No one should walk this road alone. Even those of us that are blessed with perfect health have no guarantee of tomorrow. Make each and every moment count.

Freedom of Choice is ALWAYS Important
Don’t “over manage” your loved one’s life. Just because they are sick does not mean that they can’t make their own decisions. Sometimes we want to do everything for them because we think they need to be “taken care of” in every conceivable way. In doing so it is quite easy to take away what little control over their lives they may feel they still possess. Let them decide if they want to take a nap today or plan a trip to the local zoo. Maybe tonight they don’t feel like relaxing and watching TV. Perhaps they want to visit the local karaoke bar for some fun!

Ask questions and don’t assume that a sick person always wants to rest and do nothing. Ask them what they want and how they feel and let them make up their own mind. It’s also possible that you are smothering them with too much attention. This is quite natural when we are in this situation and the solution is as simple as asking a question. Do you want me to visit again tomorrow? Would you like me to stay the weekend? Do you want to be alone tonight? Dignity is the end result of being able to do for one’s self and to be in control of our own life. Allow your loved one to be as independent as they wish to be for as long as possible.

Being Strong for Them Means Taking Care of You
A person that has been diagnosed with cancer is not the only person left in the world. If you wish to stay healthy you must take care of yourself the same as you always have, maybe even more. This is a stressful time in your life and negative emotions can significantly affect your health and attitude.

You need to be strong both physically and emotionally if you are going to take care of someone else too. You know the drill; eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise and be sure to make time for yourself. You might be able to share some of the things that you like to do with your loved one as well. If you like to walk in the park to relax invite him/her to join you if they feel up to it. Don’t feel that you must spend every waking minute being the nurse. Time alone is good for you and sometimes you need a break. Make arrangements for private time when you need it and don’t feel guilty. You can’t take care of someone else if you can’t take care of yourself.

Laughter is the Best Medicine!
Attitude is EVERYTHING. Being able to laugh regardless of the situation is the best way to keep our spirits high and to remind us that nothing is impossible. Does that sound strange to you? Does it seem “inappropriate” to have the time of your life when someone else may be dying? Well, it isn’t. Tell them the funniest joke you’ve ever heard. Reminisce about the time he kept falling down when learning how to ice skate or she died her hair the wrong color because she bought the wrong color at the store!

Remind each other that there have been good times in the past and there may still be many more in the future. Look forward with hope and you will both find the strength to fight back. Believing that you can win is the first step to healing. Without it there could be no hope and keep in mind that many people have survived cancer even when the doctors said it was not possible. Today like never before there are treatments and therapies available that can work wonders. Never give up hope and never stop laughing.

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