LET’S IMAGINE A NON-SIMPLE SITUATION: A close or not-so-close person reports that they have cancer. We begin to experience many strong emotions at once – surprise, fear, pain, despair – and don’t know how to react. The topic of serious illness remains partially taboo, so the need to adapt communication to new circumstances takes us by surprise. Hence, inappropriate questions, tactless comments, unsolicited advice, or fearful silence, which also hurts.
According to Mikhail Laskov, oncologist, candidate of medical sciences, head of the Clinic of Outpatient Oncology and Hematology, eight million people die from cancer every year, and such diagnoses are made to fourteen million people a year. Half of us, in some circumstances, will be in a situation where it will be necessary to choose words and support the sick. And although there may not be universal advice and solutions, there are basic rules.
Don’t fade away
As Laskov says, many do not know how to support a sick person and decide to simply disappear from the horizon, although this approach will definitely not help. Even if you are at a loss for words, the main thing is to stay close. A sincere phrase like: “I don’t know what to say, but I’m with you” is enough. Moreover, the person himself will tell about the disease what he considers important, and will lead you in a dialogue. Being silent and listening is more important than encouraging.
Often people do not inform their colleagues about their illness: they are afraid of discussions behind their backs, they are afraid of being fired and being left without money. It is possible that colleagues will still notice the changes and start making assumptions; worst of all, there are still myths in society, for example, that cancer is contagious. As a result, a vacuum forms around the sick person, which makes his life even more difficult. If such a situation has developed in the office, it is important to try to support the person. In this case, you need to be delicate and evaluate how close you are and how sincerely you can talk; it is important to choose words so as not to scare the interlocutor and not be intrusive. But if it is possible to express support , it will be an important experience for both sides.
Do not lie
Often, family members (for example, children or grandchildren) try to “filter” information so that the doctor will convey to the patient only what they think is correct. But not telling the truth and hiding the true state of affairs is the wrong defense tactic. A sick person understands everything perfectly, even without access to the Internet, social networks or other sources of information, especially if he suddenly ends up in the oncology department and undergoes chemotherapy. A catastrophic situation arises: the person understands everything, but cannot talk and discuss the situation with the closest people.
Even if the diagnosis itself is known, it may be tempting to ignore it. But it is important not to create a “cloud of lies” and not pretend that the disease does not exist, even if it is unpleasant to talk about it. A frequent reaction of loved ones when a person tries to start a conversation about death is simply to wave it off: “What a funeral! What are you talking about! Don’t even say that out loud! ” But, as Laskov notes, seriously ill people often want to talk about death, especially when they realize that this moment is not far off. It is difficult to maintain a conversation on such a delicate topic – but loved ones will be grateful.
Although a person with a serious illness, especially in old age, often feels dependent, for example, in household or financial terms, in fact he is not a child, he understands everything and can make decisions. And it is important to allow him to pronounce these decisions, even if the relatives do not agree with them. In addition, everyone has different priorities: one may be more important than life expectancy, and another – its quality. Often, loved ones strive by all means to prolong a person’s life, and he only wants to live the remaining months with joy. And if you need to start a new cycle of complex treatment, and a person wants to go where he dreamed of visiting all his life, it may be more important to fulfill this desire.
In addition, it is important not to rush, even if you want to make a decision as quickly as possible. There may be a feeling that seconds are counting, and this is sometimes used by unscrupulous doctors or clinics that offer expensive treatment without giving a person time to think. But still, oncology is not resuscitation, and there is almost always a week to weigh everything.
A serious diagnosis in a loved one is a huge stress, so you should not try to take everything on yourself, but to solve everyday problems, you can try to attract friends or acquaintances. People with a serious diagnosis have a hard time: they suffer physically and psychologically, and thoughts like “I am a burden” sometimes cause more pain than the disease itself. When they talk about their illness to friends and family, the last thing they want is to see scenes of panic, despair and tragedy. The best approach in this case is to thank you for telling you everything, because this is an effort on the part of the sick person, and say that you will be there.
You should not reproach yourself and think that you could show more restraint or, on the contrary, compassion – most likely, you are already doing your best. We must remember that psychological resources are not limitless, and do not try to “get into the patient’s skin.” If, after surgery or chemotherapy for a loved one, you feel almost as bad as the patient himself, this will not help matters. And of course, as in many life situations, a sense of humor is very useful. A serious illness is not the funniest thing in the world, but trials are easier to bear if the ability to laugh together remains.
Respect the opinion of the sick person
It often seems to us that we are wiser and wiser than a sick loved one, and that we can see better from the outside. In fact, it is important what this person thinks about his illness and what is happening, and not his friends or relatives. And if, for example, a person is religious, but you are not, you do not need to persuade him, it is better to switch your resources to organizational issues.
A serious illness is a great stress and a change in the picture of the world, and at first every sick person and his relatives ask themselves philosophical questions “Why me? For what?”. But then, as the oncologist notes, they see that they are not alone – this has affected half of the Facebook feed, and cancer centers are constantly overflowing. You don’t need to ask yourself why exactly this happened; it is important to understand that illness is not a personal punishment for you and not a heavenly punishment. And even the illness of a loved one can be perceived as the most important exercise that life has given you to find out how much love and compassion you really have.
Don’t tell third-party stories or ask to “hang on”
A common reaction to the news of an oncological disease is stories about grandmothers, acquaintances and second cousins who also suffered from something like this. But third-party stories don’t help and only tire you. Everyone already knows that there are people who have overcome cancer – but their story has nothing to do with a particular case. Truly valuable answers and comments come from friends and family who have gone through a similar diagnosis themselves. These people do not need to explain their condition, and when they ask how a person is doing, they are primarily interested in whether he endures the disease or is broken.
Attempts to cheer up with the words “come on, hold on” also do not bring the desired result. A person who lives with a serious diagnosis and undergoes many inconveniences, goes through pain and side effects of treatment, has not given up by default. The word “hold on” devalues all efforts and is downright annoying.
Don’t give unsolicited advice
A person who informs others about his diagnosis is instantly drowning in inevitable advice. People sincerely want to help, so they offer to urgently do an operation or in no case do it, they admonish to get to a certain hospital or go to a certain country, not to go anywhere and apply cabbage leaves to the tumor, drink soda or do a tomography, which supposedly will remove everything questions. Of course, the “advisors” share recommendations with the best intentions, but this flood of unverified and unfiltered information makes life much more difficult for the sick person.
If you are not an expert and have not faced a similar situation, do not give advice. But for a person who is faced with a choice between treatment in a serious medical institution and resorting to alternative methods, it is better to explain why evidence-based medicine has much higher chances of success, and to recommend trusting qualified doctors.
Look for information
Try to switch from your own experiences and negative emotions to the “working” mode. This is more prosaic than raising your hands and sprinkling ashes on your head, but the benefits of this approach are much greater. If the degree of closeness and trust with the person allows, take an active position, assess the situation, weigh all the input data and take action.
This is especially important in the case when an elderly person who does not have access to modern technologies, does not know how to use the Internet or does not know English, fall ill. Save him from the avalanche of unverified and irrelevant information that will fall from the search results after the first request. You can learn how to search for information, for example, from Daria Sargsyan ‘s lecture .
Help in everyday life or financially
Any serious illness, as a rule, is associated with high costs. If you can cover the cost of treatment or organize a fundraiser , do it. It is important that loved ones know: if you need money for treatment, you will get it, and you don’t have to worry about this side of the matter. But even if there is no way to help with money, you can always just physically be there, go to a doctor or get test results together. This is the minimum that anyone is capable of.
Often, a sick person becomes weaker, dependent, limited in movement. The household and financial burden falls on the shoulders of the partner, children or parents – and their resources are also limited. Therefore, any practical help in everyday life – to bring, take, be with the children, wash the car, clean, buy food in the store – is very valuable. By supporting the inner circle of the sick person, you support him as well.
Don’t forget about life outside of illness
Do not bother the person with detailed questions about his illness – it is better to share your usual life. It happens that a person with an oncological disease begins to feel like an outside observer of a normal life – as if others study, work, have fun, worry, get colds, achieve success, and he himself is already detached from the pleasure of just living. Giving your family and friends the opportunity to participate in your daily life is extremely important.
Do not treat the sick person as helpless, try to live together the same life as before the disease. When the state allows, organize trips, excursions, family holidays or get-togethers with friends, take them to the theater, for a walk. In general, by any means distract the person from the illness and thoughts about it – just watch your well-being so that the entertainment is not a burden.