What Do I Say?

The most important thing to know here is that saying something is better than saying nothing.

When I had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 30 years of age, I knew that the information grapevine was in operation. I received “Thinking of you at this time” cards from friends that normally would have picked up the phone to say “Let’s get together”. And there was no mention of why they were thinking of me, especially avoiding the “C” word.

Cancer and all that it might mean, was a word that screamed at me every minute of every day in the beginning. It didn’t tiptoe around me in nice words and innuendo. I would have loved receiving a card that said something like…”I just heard that you have cancer and I can’t begin to know what you’re feeling, but I care about you, I’m praying for you and I intend to be there for you as much as you’ll let me” or “I’m here to listen when you want to talk and talk when you want to listen.”

A card is often the least intimidating, least intrusive way to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I care and would like to help.” Say it in your own words. It is never wrong to just acknowledge the information that you have and tell them you’re there for them.

Then, if followed up with a phone call asking when you can visit or get together, your friend knows that you care and that you’re someone that they can call on when they need to.

There were also those who dropped off the face of the earth. These people I understood, as I guiltily remembered doing the same to a friend whose father suddenly died of a heart attack. I wasn’t in frequent contact with this friend, but I used the reason “I don’t know what to say” and my own awkwardness to avoid contacting her with condolence and support. I feel sad when I think that others may have done the same, leaving the family feeling alone.

There is a sense of aloneness that faces one diagnosed with cancer because no-one else can enter into the exact experience with them. Don’t further isolate them by disappearing, because though you can’t experience it for them, you can be with them as they experience it and decrease their feeling of loneliness and isolation.

Perhaps you’re guilty already of this. There is still a remedy. Write to them at first if that is easier. Then pick up the phone. Your hand of friendship and love can do much to bridge the gap between you and remove some loneliness from your friend.

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