I realize cancer is a delicate subject and not everyone handles it in the same way. Responses and reactions can change daily, sometimes moment by moment. For those reasons and many more, it can be difficult to know what to say, particularly if you don’t know the person well. While each person copes differently, the following tips will help you bring hope and encouragement to those you know who are battling cancer.
1. “You’re beautiful”
Even if she looks tired, weak, or weary. Even if she’s lost weight or gained weight. Tell her she’s beautiful. She’s probably self-conscious of her hair loss or weight gain (or loss), and it took a lot of courage for her to face the world today. Let her know that when you look at her, you don’t just see the effects of cancer, you see her. (While this is specific to women battling cancer, I assume men would like to be told they are looking good, too…but maybe not “beautiful.”) 🙂
2. “You’re strong”
Cancer and its treatment takes it’s toll on a person’s body and emotions. When your body is weary, your emotions can run wild. Simple tasks become overwhelming and everyday moments become a constant reminder of your weakness and fragility. Even if she seems strong, there’s a good chance she doesn’t feel strong. Tell her she is, because she probably needs the reminder right about now.
3. “You can do this.” (Better yet, “We can do this.”)
Cancer is an overwhelming adversary. At times it seems unbeatable, even in the most treatable cases, and it creates a constant “what if” scenario in the back of one’s mind. Your friend or family member needs to know she can do this and that she doesn’t have to do it alone. Even if the odds are stacked against her. Even if the prognosis isn’t good. Tell her she can do it. With God’s help. With your help. She can do this.
4. I’m praying for you.
This is easily my favorite thing to hear from people. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe that prayer moves the hand of God, so the more people praying for me, the better. I’ve had people I don’t know stop me to say they’re praying for me. I get emails from friends around the country telling me their churches are praying for me. I’ve even had teachers at my children’s school stop to ask me how I’m doing and say they are praying for me. Bring it on. I will take all the prayers I can get!
5. What do you need?
Early in my journey, many people offered help, but I didn’t have much need yet. Those same people were still there when my needs did arise. Some drove my kids to and from school and took me to doctor’s appointments. Others brought meals and offered to get groceries or run errands. Some simply checked in from time to time asking if I needed anything. Each offer was an answered prayer, meeting whatever we needed at that time. If you don’t know what to say to someone, offer to do something for them.
Read my full cancer journey in my book Unshakable: Finding Faith to Weather the Storm, then head over to Compassion That Compels to see what not to say to someone who is facing cancer (or any devastating life event, for that matter).