I once asked a patient when she was due for her next screening mammogram. I was mortified when she told me she’d recently had a bilateral mastectomy! 😱🤦♀️Although some women do need to continue mammograms after mastectomy, I was ashamed of my lack of sensitivity about her previous experience. Thankfully, she didn’t mind about my foot in mouth moment but I have remained vigilant ever since.
🌻How do you talk to someone with cancer or who has survived cancer?
At some point, someone we know will get cancer. When it happens, we should be prepared to communicate and support them. Many people (like me!) say inappropriate things without realising it but even when we try to do our best, it’s hard to find the right words.
There is no single right way to do it, just be mindful and keep trying. It’s likely that the person with cancer has felt a wide range of strong emotions. Try to imagine if you were in their shoes. What would you want someone to say to you?
Here are some tips for talking to someone with cancer:
🔸Don’t ignore it
🔸Show them you care
🔸Use humour to relieve tension
🔸Make sure it’s OK to give advice before you give it
🔸Think carefully before you speak
🔸Take your cues from them
🔸Don’t minimise their experience by saying ‘don’t worry’ or ‘you’ll be alright’
🔸Don’t be intrusive by asking about results or prognosis
🔸Share encouraging stories but avoid comparing to other people you know with cancer
🔸Don’t judge their appearance if they’ve lost weight or hair
🔸Avoid interrupting, changing the topic or cutting the conversation short
🔸Avoid clichés like ‘hero’, ‘fight’ or ‘battle’, does this mean they haven’t fought hard enough when things get worse?
Sources: @cancercouncil, cancer.net, cancercenter.com
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