What to Say to Someone Facing Cancer

There’s a neat article in the New York Times about what to say to someone who is sick. Interesting and frank, the article talks about what to say and do and what NOT to say or do. I agree with some points and not with others, but it’s a good discussion and it’s thoughtful. Thoughtfulness, it seems to me, is what is required when talking to someone facing a life-threatening illness and treatment.

When I wrote Active Against Cancer, I thought a lot about the fact that I was writing it for a variety of people with a variety of cancer situations, a variety of physical obstacles, and the many various moods that one goes through. I worried and wondered, “How can I find the right tone for all readers?” So, I settled on just sounding like myself as much as I could.

I tried not to assume that a reader was “down” or that they were well enough to walk that day or … well, anything. It was an interesting challenge. I have been told that my tone in the book comes across as very encouraging. I like hearing that. I hope that my tone works for my readers most of the time.

I thought a lot about these issues when I was facing cancer. Then, in writing my book, I wanted to sound different than the way most doctors are somewhat forced to sound. Because doctors can not predict, most of the time, exactly what will happen to a patient, they talk in statistics and probabilities. Try as you may, it’s hard to get them to talk any other way. “What about me? What will happen to me?” They will revert to “your chances” and keep the conversation there. It’s fair, it’s their best choice, and it’s not that satisfying to most of us.

When I was in treatment, after researching statistics all that I could bear, I decided to be consciously optimistic. I quit trying to be realistic–whatever that was. It was so much easier to be optimistic. It was healthier. It made me want to get up and try to do what I could to protect my health–eat right, exercise, sleep as best I could, take care of myself emotionally, have a good day, week, life.

I hope that the people who read Active Against Cancer can intuit my belief that statistics are for doctors, but as long as you or I are still breathing, we have the choice to believe in our making a good recovery. Then, we need to go act like we believe in it. Follow doctors’ orders and also take care of ourselves in meaningful ways.

Will that guarantee our success beating cancer? Maybe not, but it is surely easier to get up in the morning if we treat ourselves as “recovering” rather than as a statistical dot on a graph. I’m not always 100% successful at not being scared or worried, but I at least know that I am committed to doing what I can as if I may live cancer-free from here on. So far, so good.

Peace on your journey, strength on your path.