My mom was diagnosed in May of this year with cancer. I'm not going to go in to too much detail about her diagnosis on my blog, because while it affects me in an unbelievable way, it still isn't my story to share. What I can share are my own personal experiences, thoughts, and feelings I've had over the last seven months.
One of the biggest things I've dealt with is people being lost with what to say, what to do - to the family member and to the person with the diagnosis. All I have to say to you is, join the crowd. While there's nothing anyone can say to make it go away or "make it better" there are ways you can show that you care.
In my personal experiences, the best things you can do for someone who has cancer are:
If you don't know what to say, that's okay! Tell them you don't know what to say. I found that when I was speaking to someone about the subject, I felt a lot less awkward after we'd established that there really was no easy way to talk about it. One of my dearest friends told me, "Kalyn, I know there's nothing I can say to make you feel better or make your mom better, but I just want you to know that I care and I'm here for you, even if you just want to cry into the phone, I'm here." Being genuine rather than giving false reassurances can go a lot further in making someone feel loved.
If you don't know the answers, don't try to give them. While we may think that saying "I know you're going to make it through this!" sounds encouraging, it may not be. Instead, try something more like "I know what you're going through is scary, and I can only imagine how you feel. You can share your feelings with me if you're scared."
Offer to help in specific ways.
The support shown to my family has been absolutely tremendous, it really means more than I can put in to words. If you have the time or the means to help, but are afraid of overstepping or making a person feel inadequate, don't be! Some weeks, there aren't things that my mom needs, but some weeks there are. Someone to drive her to her appointments is a big one - and it's nice knowing that she has the help when I'm so far away from her as well. I feel that most people have a hard time asking for help with things that they previously did not need help, so saying "I will be over next week to help you wash your dishes," rather than "Can I help you with anything?" is much more specific and someone may be less likely to refuse out of kindness or embarrassment.
Don't feel like you always have to talk about cancer.
Just because someone IS sick doesn't mean they're whole life revolves around their diagnosis. While it is a big part of their life, cancer probably isn't something they want to talk about 24/7. Continue the relationship you had with them before, and if they bring it up, don't be afraid to broach the subject of cancer - but don't feel like you have to bring it up every time you see them.
Having a friend or family member diagnosed with cancer is a scary, awful thing. The most important things to remember is that they are still a person - be kind and be respectful. Take your cues from them, don't overstep your bounds, and don't totally forget about them or be scared to talk to them anymore because of their diagnosis. Remember, they HAVE cancer, they haven't BECOME cancer.
If you have any questions or need someone to talk to because of a similar situation in your life, feel free to send me an email. I don't have all the answers, but that doesn't mean we can't chat.