Did S/he Really Just Say That?

When our friends and families hear about our cancer, often they try to say something to be “helpful” or “supportive”.  And all too often, in their discomfort, what gets spoken is neither helpful nor supportive.  You know the kinds of advice and comments I’m talking about:

…I heard about a woman who…

…You just need to keep a positive attitude…

…Wow, you look good.  You haven’t even lost weight yet…

…Wow, you look awful…

…I know just how you feel…

…We’re never given more than we can handle…

Or, perhaps worse

…the ghastly silence, sad face, inability to make eye contact…

We want to tell them that they are not helping, that, right now, cheery platitudes and advice isn’t what’s needed or wanted, but we don’t want to be rude.  And, even when we try to gently steer the conversation we can see their fear and disappointment.  Ugh!

We could, of course, just tell our loved ones our truth.  I know, easier said than done.

Look, we already know we’re not on the “easy” path in this life.  If cancer teaches us anything, it teaches that waiting for things to get better mostly doesn’t make things better.  So, while we’re being brave and doing what it takes to heal the body, how about we be a little brave with our loved ones’ unhelpful advice.

Step one:  Practice asking for what you need, want, wish for, could use.  Ask someone to bring you a glass of water, fetch a pillow, tell you a joke, hold your hand.  Ask for help with the groceries, the laundry, the family “taxi service”, dusting, the dishes, read to you, come with you for your next doctor’s appointment.  Asking others to do for you gives them a gift, and something to talk about, and helps them stop worrying.

Step two: Tell your loved ones what you’d like to hear.  Teach them what they could say that would, in fact be helpful and supportive.

…I want to do something for you, so please, what can I do to make your life easier?

…I’m here to just listen to you and love you.

…Do you want anything right now?

…Hey, I bet you want to talk about something other than breast cancer…

Step three:  When someone says something that feels unhelpful, tell them.  Try saying something like “When you said __________________, I felt _____________________.”  For example:  “When you said I look awful, I felt ashamed about how my treatments are affecting my skin and my hair.”  The person receiving your feedback will, likely, apologize and, perhaps make some excuse.  There’ll be an awkward moment.  And then you can try step one, above.  Ask them to do something for you.  You’ll be amazed how quickly your loved ones will learn!

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