Take the time to read this everyone. It comes from Regina Brett-Purlitzer prize writer of the Plain Dealer.
It’s easy to laugh at the flight attendant now, but back then, she stopped me cold.
Years ago, the day after a chemotherapy treatment, I flew to San Diego for a work conference. The flight attendant looked crestfallen when she saw the bald, thin, weak woman in front of her. “You’re my hero,” she told me, as if I were on a Make-A-Wish trip.
Did I look that bad? Probably. Did it help to know it? No.
What do you say to people who have cancer? Anyone who has had the disease gets asked that. Lately, both friends and readers have asked me. Right now there are 10 million Americans alive who have had cancer. As baby boomers age, there will be more diagnosed.
I’ve always wanted to give people a cheat sheet with the basics. The American Cancer Society offers endless tips online at http://www.cancer.org (or call 1-800-227-2345). The agency’s best advice? Respond from the heart.
My best advice? Let’s start with what not to do:
Don’t flee. Cancer brings out the best and the worst in people. Some friends will go AWOL. Don’t be that friend. Write, visit, call. The burden of the friendship is on the well person. Stay involved for the long haul. The longer the treatment, the lonelier it gets.
Don’t share cancer horror stories. If the main character of your story dies, that’s not considered a happy ending.
Don’t offer medical advice or discourage the person from pursuing the course of treatment he has chosen.
Don’t overreact and jump from diagnosis to death. The person in front of you is very much alive no matter what the prognosis.
Don’t blame the person for having cancer.
Don’t point out anything that isn’t flattering, like how big someone’s ears look when they’re bald from chemo. Make sure your words are necessary, helpful or kind.
Don’t be afraid of the person. Cancer isn’t contagious.
Don’t ask personal questions that only doctors and spouses are allowed to ask.
Don’t say you know how the person feels. You really don’t.
Now for the do’s:
Stay in touch by phone, e-mails and cards. Allow the person to respond as energy allows.
Send movies, books, gift baskets, flowers and meals in containers the person doesn’t have to return.
Instead of asking, “What can I do?” offer a few specifics. When someone throws out choices, it makes it easier to grab one when your brain is fuzzy from chemo. Ask: Can I pick up something to eat or drink? Drive you to the library? Take you to a movie? Get you a milkshake?
Ask the person’s main caretaker, too: Can I run an errand? Watch the kids? Bring over a meal? Hire a maid service to help out?
Take nothing personal if the person gets irritated, tense, sad or depressed and doesn’t always call back. Keep offering. Keep the friendship going.
When it comes to cancer, there are no right words. Sometimes no words are best. Your presence alone matters more than anything you can say.
When in doubt, just ask, “Is there anything I can do to make you more comfortable?” Good advice for flight attendants, too.
by MaryAnn Merendino at Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 3:25 PM
She is Mena’s friend, I met her one day over lunch at Mena’s, and she’s as down to earth as can be, funny, smart, compasionate, brave – sounds a lot like you. xoxo
by Katie Downie at Wednesday, April 30, 2008, 1:18 PM
I read that when it was in the paper last week!! She always has the most, stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of columns…she seems to know what needs to be said, to make people really think. I like her writing alot. That was a great article.