June 13, 2012
Whether it is breast, brain, or lung cancer, talking about the diagnosis could be difficult. Martha Jefferson Chaplain Suzanne Hilton Smith works with cancer patients and their family and friends. She says there’s no right or wrong thing to say or do, it just really depends on the patient.
“Don’t assume what helps me will help you. Don’t assume that something that’s been a coping strategy for you in the past will work,” said Smith.
Smith says sometimes you just have to ask or wait for a patient to tell you what they need.
“I would say listening attentively is very important because the person will typically give you clues about what helps; the other thing is to ask questions,” said Smith.
How do you know if they’re ready to talk about diagnosis, treatment, or side effects of cancer?
“Sometimes I say, is this a time when you would like to talk about what’s happened to you or would you like to be distracted?” said Smith.
Although each cancer patient is different, Smith says some things should generally be avoided. One of those things is telling people what to do.
“You should go here and get a second opinion. You should take shock cartilage, you should meditate; you must be positive,” said Smith.
Smith also says it is important to remember to be there for your loved one throughout treatment.
“So I would say if you’re the friend of someone, don’t stop showing up just because the first round of Chemo-therapy is done. Be a faithful presence, a faithful friend who continues to offer support,” said Smith.
Smith says sometimes it’s best for patients to break down friends into three groups: the doers, the respite folks, and the listeners.
The doers can run errands or help around the house. The respite buddies don’t want to hear about cancer, but they’ll take you out to get your mind off cancer.
The listeners will be there whenever you want to talk.