There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to say to someone with cancer, but here is what helps 1



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“I was asked to write a blog on the topic ‘Things you shouldn’t say to someone with cancer’. I realised I couldn’t do that. In the past 15 months I have been diagnosed with breast cancer – twice! I don’t think anyone has ever said the ‘wrong’ thing – many family and friends avoided ‘saying’ anything at all other than ‘I’m sorry to hear that’. But what else can they say? However, there is lots they can ‘do’!

I’ve always been a pretty independent person – never asking for help – but I found myself wishing that someone would just offer it! Throughout the treatment and subsequent ‘recovery’ from the first diagnosis, I was incredibly tired, uncomfortable, unmotivated and unable to do even the basic home duties. A friend, just turning up and saying – ‘I thought I would come and change your bed today’; I’m going to do your washing; do you need help having a shower; where’s the vacuum cleaner….’ would have been so welcome. No fuss, no bother – just practical help.

However, when asked to write this blog, my response was to answer the question ‘Things you should say’. In particular, the medical profession. My surgeon was brilliant – he pulled no punches, told me exactly what he would be doing, what I could expect after surgery but then the ‘ball was in another court’. Pathology would determine the treatment – in my case, radiotherapy. 16 consecutive days of it. I’d done my research and had a fair idea of what to expect but nothing prepared me for the ‘swollen, hard, sunburnt ‘lump on my chest’ I was left with. Each follow up visit was met with ‘it’s not unusual’.

It turned out to be bloody ‘unusual’. When meeting the same surgeon, 13 months later, even though the diagnosis was the same, his response was – given the condition of the other breast following radiation, I have to recommend a mastectomy! Before the surgery, he asked if he could take photos of my radiated breast for his teaching classes!

During that 15-month period, I’ve seen so many different health professionals, experts in their particular field, but many have avoided being ‘honest’ in telling me what I could experience. In fairness, doctors/health professionals don’t have a ‘crystal ball’ but they can at least tell you like it is. I think most people diagnosed with any form of life threatening illness need to know what they may be faced with.

In conclusion, if there is someone you love (and who loves you) is dealt this sort of blow, just ‘be there’. Nothing you can say will change their circumstances, but there is much you can do that will.”

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Susan Leighton

  1. My hubby was diagnosed with an aggressive skin cancer in July 2015, the day I had my very first car accident. Since then our lives have been in turmoil, leading up to operation 1 and 2 then radiation therapy and now chemo and radiation. Barely a day goes by without a phone call from the oncology unit making appointments, asking health questions, or changing appointment and treatment times. He’s lucky we have some of the best available but still the uncertainty of it all is taxing on our home, relationship and lives. He is choosing to continue to work to keep himself strong, but the anger remains. Since July car needed fixing (insured), pet needed to be euthanized (neighbourhood child ran into her on a scooter and ruptured her liver). Holidays booked and paid cancelled and so the grind goes on. 2016 is showing us it is in control but we are making it back up and trying to keep on smiling.

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