Things Not to Say
I am sure that every one of us could make a list of stupid or hurtful things that people have said to us. Even though we tell ourselves that most people are trying to be supportive and helpful, their remarks can still sting. There are a few strategies that can help.
First, remember that you never have to answer a question or share information. How much you say about your diagnosis or treatment is completely up to you. We are so trained to be polite that we sometimes find ourselves answering questions and saying more than we really have wanted to do. There is an excellent all purpose response to use in those situations. When someone says something like: "What is your prognosis?" or "Did you miss some annual mammograms?", the recommendation is this: First, pause for a moment. Then, in a puzzled, not an angry voice, say; "What are you asking that?". This inevitably throws the other person into confusion and, hopefully, embarrassment.
Second strategy: Keep a mental or an actual list of "Stupid Things People have Said to Me". Then, when one of those remarks comes your way (e.g. "My cousin had that same kind of cancer, and she died."), you have somewhere to put it. Knowing that "aha, another one for the list!?" is way better than getting furious or bursting into tears. Then revert to the suggested response above.
This is an article from Woman's Day about things not to say to someone with cancer. It is pretty good, and you might want to print it out and hand it around.
10 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who Has Cancer
It’s important to choose your words carefully when speaking to a cancer patient. Though you probably mean well,
it's all too easy to accidentally insult someone. According to Barbara L. Andersen, PhD, a researcher and professor of psychology, two of the best things to say are easy: "I'm sorry you're ill" and "I'm thinking of you." In fact, sometimes gestures speak louder than words. For instance, sending flowers or watching TV with your friend can offer comfort.
Every cancer patient has a different opinion and experience, of course, and many know that you do mean well. But to avoid putting your foot in your mouth, don't utter these next 10 phrases.
1. "You are strong and will get through this."
Jacki Donaldson, a 44-year-old cancer survivor and writer/editor in Gainesville, FL, says this sends the message that if you need to be tough to survive. And that's not necessarily true. "I personally like when someone meets me where I am and says, ‘How unfair. You must be so mad.’ These words validate my feelings and make me feel understood. Misery does love company. Misery does not always love the positive spin on tragic life events," she says.