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What Not To Say

Relay For Life 2018

You just ran into Kroger’s to grab a loaf of bread when you see Jane Doe coming around the corner. Jane has cancer. You’ve known about it for a few weeks but haven’t seen her out and you’ve been too busy to call. What to do, what to do. Do you say “hi” and keep going? Do you act like you didn’t see her? Do you stop and say…
Here are a few things you should do and say – and more importantly a few things you shouldn’t do or say to someone who has cancer.
1. Don’t act like she has the plague. She knows she has cancer – and she knows that you know she has cancer. And chances are, she’s already seen you. So…don’t duck and run. Acting like you didn’t see her makes for a very bad friend. And Jane is going to remember that you couldn’t even say “hi.” Now’s the time to man-up and acknowledge she’s there. But…
2. Don’t stop and say “How are you feeling?” Jane looks terrible, she has bags under her eyes. It took all over her strength just to drag herself out to get crackers. She’s also really tired of people saying “How are you feeling?” which just reminds her that she’s feeling pretty crappy. Say “I’m so glad to see you” or “You look good! I’m so glad I ran into you.”
3. Don’t say “I heard you had cancer. How serious is it?” Okay, here’s the deal. It’s bad enough that she’s losing her hair and looks rough. She doesn’t need to make you feel better about her having cancer – and she certainly doesn’t need to tell you how bad it is and how much time she has left. If you’re close family, you’d already know the answer to that so don’t ask.
4. Don’t say “I’ve been praying” unless you really, truly have been praying. Cancer patients are already in a life and death struggle – and there is very oftentimes a “why God?” struggle going on as well. People saying that they’re praying for you – especially when that person has never talked about God with you or set foot in a church before – are saying they’re praying for you. It’s an empty phrase – and Jane knows it. Also don’t say “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Really? Because Jane is at the end of her rope and she feels like having a Helen Keller fit right here in Krogers. More than she can handle? Friend, she was there last week. Will she get through this battle? Probably. But now is not the time to remind her that she and God can do all things.
5. Don’t ask “Is there anything I can do for you?” Of course there is, dummy, but Jane’s not going to ask you to come over and do her laundry. If you want to help, call her and say “I’d like to stop by. When’s a good time? This afternoon?” Go over to her house, do her dishes, clean up her kitchen, bring her some magazines, watch “The Walking Dead” with her (because that is just the best freakin’ show on TV right now – personal plug). Just please, please don’t ask her what she needs. She needs so much it’s overwhelming. Get your other friends to bring her food on treatment day so her family can eat, set up a schedule to walk her dog or take her kids for the afternoon. Just think about what would help you if you had cancer – and do it.
6. Do not say “My aunt had that kind.” Jane doesn’t care if Michelle Obama had that kind. She doesn’t care what sort of treatment she had. Unless you are Michelle Obama – or another patient- who had the exact same kind, she doesn’t want to hear your aunt’s story.
7. Do not say “I know how you feel.” Unless you’ve personally had cancer – or cared firsthand for someone who’s had it, do not say this! You couldn’t possibly know how it feels.
8. Do not say anything beginning with “Dr. Oz says…” Dr. Oz is not an expert on Jane’s cancer – he’s not even treating her. The man has some good ideas but now’s not the time to share them. And don’t tell Jane to eat better. She knows that but all food is disgusting to her right now (chemo tends to do that) so if she gets down a handful of crackers and a Sprite Zero, yay for Jane.
9. Say “I just hate this for you.” “Cancer sucks.” Then talk about anything unrelated to cancer – the weather, Jane’s kids, her job – anything but cancer.
10. Say “I’ve given to the American Cancer Society my entire life. There is hope. Just last year, more people survived cancer than were diagnosed with it. There’s an awful lot of information on If you’re on the Internet, you ought to check it out.”

And finish with…


– Rebecca Ruehl

Relay for Life is Friday, May 11 at Okawville Park. Survivors’ Lap begins at 5pm.

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