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Basic Do’s and Don’ts When Someone You Know Has Cancer

Do:
• Take your cues from the person with cancer. Some people are very private, while others will openly talk about their illness. Respect the person’s need to share or their need for privacy.
• Let them know you care.
• Respect their decisions about how their cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.
• Include the person in usual work projects, plans, and social events. Let them be the one to tell you if the commitment is too much to manage.
• Check before doing something for your co-worker with cancer, no matter how helpful you think you are being. Keep them up-to-date with what’s happening at work.
• Listen without always feeling that you have to respond. Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most.
• Expect the person with cancer to have good days and bad days, emotionally and physically.
• Keep your relationship as normal and balanced as possible. While greater patience and compassion are called for during times like these, your friend should continue to respect your feelings, as you respect their feelings.
• Offer to help in concrete, specific ways.

Don’t:
• Offer advice they don’t ask for, or be judgmental.
• Feel you must put up with serious displays of temper or mood swings. You shouldn’t accept disruptive or abusive behavior just because someone is ill.
• Assume your co-worker no longer can do the job. They need to feel like a valuable contributing member of the company or department.
• Take things too personally. It’s normal for the person with cancer to be quieter than usual, to need time alone, and to be angry at times.
• Be afraid to talk about the illness.
• Always feel you have to talk about cancer. The person with cancer may enjoy conversations that don’t involve the illness.
• Be afraid to hug or touch your friend if that was a part of your friendship before the illness.
• Be patronizing. Try not to use a “How sick are you today?” tone when asking how the person is doing.
• Tell the person with cancer, “I can imagine how you must feel,” because you really can’t.
• Go around someone with cancer if you are sick, or have a fever or any other signs of infection.

Offering support to someone with cancer
It’s human nature to distance yourself from someone when they become ill. Cancer can force us to look at our own fears about illness, weakness, or death. This may make us reluctant to interact with someone facing cancer. But isolation can be a problem for people with cancer. Make an extra effort to reach out. Communication and flexibility are the keys to success.

Remember that the person you know with cancer may find it hard to ask for help or may be worried about seeming weak or vulnerable. Telling a person, “You’re so brave,” or “You’re so strong,” can put pressure on them to act strong when they may not feel up to it. Families can put subtle pressure on people with cancer by expecting or needing them to be strong all the time. In that case, you might play an important role for a friend who has cancer. They may know you well and trust you enough to confide in you. This kind of relationship can be a great gift for a person facing cancer.

If they need medical equipment or money for treatment, you can look into getting something donated or organize a raffle to help raise money. Or you can simply take up a collection to buy something that might not be covered by insurance.

The person with cancer may look to you for advice regarding financial worries, work issues, or other concerns. Be honest. Help if you can, but if you feel uncomfortable, say so. There are many places a person can get help and support, and you might suggest seeking the advice of a professional who is best suited to give that kind of guidance.

Keep in mind, too, that those close to the person with cancer will also need help and support. A family member who is responsible for the care of the person with cancer can become isolated and stressed. If you know that person, you may want to check in to see how they are doing, too. They might also be able to share ideas about how you can best help the person with cancer.

Continue to treat your friend as normally as possible. Don’t feel that you always have to talk about cancer. Include them in activities and social events. If they aren’t up to doing something, let them be the one to decide to say no. Keep inviting them unless they tell you otherwise. Ask what would be most helpful. Offer to help in specific ways, rather than saying, “Call me if I can help.” Here are some ideas:
• Send or prepare a meal. Arrange a schedule of meal delivery.
• Offer to help with child care. Arrange a schedule of day care pick-ups.
• Offer a ride to and from treatment appointments.
• Help run errands.
• Offer to take their phone calls if they are tired and need to rest.
• Coordinate visits by groups, or coordinate sending cards, flowers, or gifts.
• Honor them by making contributions to related charities, organizing blood drives, or making special efforts in their name.
• Welcome them back to work with something on their desk to show people missed them. Invite them out to lunch.
• Offer to do some research on their unanswered questions about cancer, or refer them to the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
• If the person agrees, plan a party when treatment is finished or on anniversary dates. Always check with them first before making party plans, including showing them the list of those to be invited.

Source: American Cancer Society

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