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List: How to talk to a cancer patient without being a complete twit



Rule n. 1:
Consider carefully before asking "How are you?"

We all do it. In reality it is one of the few remaining scraps of what was called "label". We all ask the question, and when we are asked to answer mostly, "Good". It's just a social convention.

But when someone is prey to an illness that causes fatigue, nausea, fever, chills, soaked sweat, deep pain and / or death – and this is only the disease; it does not matter what the treatments do – well, it's an open, awkward conversation to say the least.

The sick can go with social conventions and simply say "Good", but you both know it's a lie: problematic at best. Or he / she could tell you how it really is, but it will inevitably be a complex answer that will delay your next appointment. And let's face it, you did not really want to know, did you? The question has vanished before you think about it.

Rule n. 2:
Do not underestimate nobility and wisdom
to look after your beeswax.

Unless you're the record doctor, keep your damned medical opinions aside. It is not your job to determine which treatments are appropriate, if any. Especially when such treatments are painful, debilitating and expensive, and the other choice is picking up daisies, remember that it is not your life in the forefront. Even if you feel absolutely certain that you would do this or that choice, you are in the patient's shoes, those are actually the patient's feet in there, not yours. You do not know what you would do. Nobody does.

Please do not insist that you know, or know, a fabulous doctor that the patient should really see in a city uncomfortably distant from the patient's residence, because obviously the doctors in the vicinity of the patient can not be as good as what the son of a friend friend saw for treatment.

Please do not recommend "to see" websites.

In the same way it bites the tongue – hard – if one is tempted to recommend contrary treatments. Even if you really, really believe that everything is treatable with the right herbs, vitamins, positive thoughts, acupuncture, Tesla and cannabis reels, keep it for yourself. Save it for your cancer treatment if that happy occasion arises.

Rule n. 3:
Try listening to your mouth.

Avoid the temptation to tell the story of your great-uncle Fred, who had cancer and received sixteen chemo shots and enough radiation to blow up a buffalo, yet he lived until he was 73 years old. (He was 72 when he was diagnosed, but it does not matter.) You might think these survival stories are helpful / encouraging, but you shift the burden on the sufferer to listen to him carefully.

Likewise, do not compare the patient's circumstance with the people you know or know, who has had much worse. Your cousin Tilly has lost not only all her hair, but also her teeth, her tongue and her eyes? It may surprise you to know that no one ever rejoiced at how lucky they are not to be sick anymore.

A sick person does not want to hear about your even-worsities. Broken health is not a race to the bottom of the pile of experiences. A sick person has enough to attend without having to nod comprehensively your stories of pain and murmuring polite nullities. This should be your job.

Rule n. 4:
It avoids euphemisms.

People are generally not as stupid as we like to believe, and a person who looks at the double-barreled shotgun of a life-threatening disease knows all too well what he is facing. Do not avoid saying the word C thinking that the shock will be too much for them to endure. Believe me, if the doctor has already phoned the results of the biopsy (and it's never good news when the doctor calls), they've already brought more reality than you can give.

Do not refer to the debilitating illness as a "journey". Life is a journey. A trip to Italy is a journey. The main disease is a loss of road 55 years MPH in the dark without warning signs.

Not, puh-leeze, especially in the person's obituary, cites his "courageous battle with cancer". A person can not stand the debilitating indignity of chemo / radiation / surgery because it is courageous. A person endures these things because the only alternative is that of daisy: in reality it is the way of least resistance. Doctors could fight cancer, but the poor patient is simply the battlefield.

Rule n. 5:
Do not look at the positive side.

Screw the positive side, when a person's life has just made a hard left turn. Do not say: "I heard that the hair grows better after chemo!" This is, to say the least, cold comfort.

Rule n. 6:
Just because you learn about someone's misfortune,
this is not for you.

No multimedia message! Bad health is personal, private and in its strange, intimate way. Please: no Facebook posts, tweets, blanket emails or blogs. Do not launch any Make-A-Wish or Kickstarter campaign on behalf of the patient without your explicit consent. Remember that you do not have this situation, for which you could be really grateful.

Rule 7:
Leave your religion out.

Even if someone shares your faith, it is important for them not to be rejoiced by the news that their extreme illness is part of God's plan. For someone who does not share your point of view, this is the penultimate, if not the maximum, in an icy comfort. If cancer is really part of God's Intelligent Project for the world, then God has to go back to the drawing board. This is not something you should inflict on your children for whom you should have such infinite love. (It looks a lot more like an Abusive Father, really.)

In any case: do not go there. Offer to pray if you feel so moved. But above all, do not continue as if this did not happen if only the patient's faith had been stronger. And if you dare say "Everything happens for a reason", you deserve a long-term term in whatever your religion has to offer.

Rule 8:
Thanks for the offer to help.
What exactly did you offer to help you?

"Call me if there's anything I can do" is another of those situations where you're placing the burden on the patient: to track not just swirling appointments, medications, side effects and of an impressive array of logistics, but now a list of people, including you, no you're not the only one, who offered a nebulous help. What, exactly, are you capable of and willing to do: Rides? Meals? Housework? Shopping? People with overcrowded brains are more inclined to remember specific things, and more inclined to believe that you have really understood and are not limited to greeting your conscience so you can say "Well, I offered to help, but they never called me. "

Thank you for your best intentions. Thanks for not wanting to be a twit.


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