Question of the Week
June 7, 2004

When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, it is often hard to know what to say or what to do.

Maybe it is someone in your family:

"Any illness changes family life for a while.... But when someone has cancer, it is different. He or she needs special medical treatment and may go to the hospital or clinic a lot. People in the family may worry. They worry for the person who has cancer and for themselves. Cancer is a serious illness, and it can be scary if you don't know for sure if the person will get well or not. People in your family may react differently. They may be afraid or angry that their life has changed. They may be tired, or they may be nervous about the future. They may be tense and not as easy to talk to as before, because they are worried. Some people may go on just as if nothing has happened, and they may not seem different at all...."

Maybe it is a friend:

"And if you're a teen whose friend has cancer? 'Don't be afraid to ask questions,' advises Amy. 'Try not to worry about hurting someone's feelings. Don't be afraid that you'll catch cancer from your friend. Teens with cancer don't want to be treated differently - that's just going to make your friend feel worse, like he or she is going to die. Just be yourself. Be the best friend you can be.'"

Whoever it is, you may feel awkward or uncomfortable around them: afraid you might say or do something wrong.

"Usually, it's not what you say to a person with cancer which matters most to them, but how you listen. Having cancer can give rise to a whole range of strong emotions: shock, fear, anger, bitterness, uncertainty, confusion, depression. All too easily people with cancer can feel vulnerable and isolated. Talking about fears can actually help reduce anxiety. You can help by encouraging the person to talk, and by acknowledging the unpleasantness of all these feelings. Not all of us are born counsellors, but if you are a good listener, you can show a person with cancer that you accept how they feel. That might help them be more comfortable with talking openly."

Just as each person is going to deal with cancer differently, each cancer is different. There are so many websites available where you can find out more about a specific type of cancer, or the fight against cancer as a whole, that it is often difficult to know where to start. Two good places to start:
The National Cancer Institute
and The American Cancer Society

Even if you were to read every line written about cancer, dealing with cancer is more than just knowledge about the disease.

"One in three people will be affected by cancer at some stage in their lives. Life is transformed if you have cancer. You and your family are faced with a new world where you have important choices to make. This website aims to help you find a way through and around that world - the right way for you, and for those close to you. It's not meant to cover everything, and there is no simple 'this is what you do' formula. Everyone has different feelings and different needs. But it does aim to offer you a few signposts about what to expect and how to get the services you want."

"If you are a person with cancer, family member or caring friend, we urge you to seek emotional and social support - it's as important as medical care. At Gilda's Club, where every membership is free-of-charge, a community of support is developed in which people of all ages with all kinds of cancer learn from one another how to live more fully."

There is more support offered online as well as in many communities and hospitals. This is just a place to get you started. If someone you love has cancer. You are not alone. Help and support are available in so many forms. One way to keep from feeling helpless and overwhelmed is to offer support.

"Ask what you can do to help and be sincere and specific so that they know you mean it. If they can't come up with anything tell them to let you know if they do and then ask again in another week or so. * Offer to help with practical things such as driving them to treatments or doctor's appointments, taking their kids to childcare, and doing housecleaning, gardening, yardwork, or babysitting. Ask them what they are most concerned about being able to do."

What if the person you want to support already has all the help he or she needs--or you can't help with what is needed?

"Get Involved How can you join the fight against cancer? Check out these events and programs to see how you can participate in fundraising efforts, support legislation on a local and national level, and help with activities in your area."

Questions of the Week:
How can you best support your friend or relative who has cancer? How can you get the help and support you need as someone you love fights cancer? What can you do to help the fight against cancer on an individual or a global level?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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