Whether you’re a family member, friend,
or even just an acquaintance of someone grappling with a diagnosis of a terminal illness, it can seem difficult to know what to say or do for them. Here, people who address this reality every day — whether they’re psychologists, chaplains or cancer patients — share advice on what helps, and what doesn’t.
Don’t say, “It’s going to be OK”
It’s an automatic and well-intended response, but don’t try to reassure a friend or loved one that everything will end up just fine. “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and well-meaning people would say that to me, I’d just stare at them and think, There’s no possible way that we know that , ” says Breanna Wicker, area vice president of operations for the home health and hospice company Amedisys and herself a breast cancer survivor.
Suzanne Maxey, a former hospice nurse who is now battling an aggressive breast cancer, says don't tell someone who is ill that they’ll “beat it.” “That's ridiculous,” she says. “I've been a hospice nurse for years. The type of breast cancer I have — triple negative — comes back sooner or later. And I don't want to hear about your mother or close friend with stage one breast cancer who is now fine. That's not what I'm dealing with right now."
If you’re struggling for a way to say something meaningful, try the following, advises Liwanag Ojala, chief executive officer of CaringBridge, a nonprofit, online social networking site that helps family and friends communicate with and support loved ones during illness: I wish this wasn’t happening to you. This must be hard news for you to share. I’m here for you.