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Cancer is not Groovy

I Don't Know What to Say

Written by MJ Reporter Willow LaMunyon

As you know by now, Medicare Jetsetters originator and co-owner Shelley has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Over 30 years ago, I also had breast cancer, and before that, our mother had it. That makes me a self-proclaimed expert on what to say and not say when you are trying to comfort a friend or family member with breast cancer. Here is a list of the things you can do or, in some cases, not to do, to help make it easier for someone experiencing this difficult and life-changing disease.

1. Call and offer your support and friendship. Make the call short unless your friend needs to talk. Do a lot of listening instead of talking and call back frequently.

2. Cancer doesn't always show. A person can look great, the picture of health, but that is often the result of extra vitamins. Cancer takes a big bite out of a person's energy and comfort even before treatment. Please do your best to make frequent but short contact.

3. Visit if you live close enough, and again keep it short. If you are not feeling well in any form, don't visit. Cancer treatment takes a person's immunity down. Sometimes, an oncologist will recommend isolation for a while until blood tests indicate it is okay to be around others.

4. Invite your friend out to eat or go to a movie, maybe shopping. Just be sure it is a good day. The way to find that out is to ask.

5. Send a card in the mail, and don't just sign it; write a short note. A diagnosis of cancer doesn't mean a loss of humor. If a card made you laugh or smile, you have found the perfect card. Having cancer is not a death sentence. Chances are stronger that a person will make a full recovery than not. For you, that means don't act like you are visiting someone on their deathbed. Don't speak in low tones. Don't spend more than five seconds by the clock doing a poor you. Instead, have a normal friend-type conversation. Unless your friend is extremely sensitive, nothing normal is off the table. If your friend becomes angry, don't take it personally. Sometimes the tension causes a blowup. If they want to talk about their illness, let them. Even give them an opening to do so if they don't discuss something else. When in doubt about anything, it is better to ask than to let that elephant in the room crap all over the rug.

6. If your friend loses their hair and decides not to wear a wig, don't you dare say, "I am glad you feel comfortable enough to do that around us."

That is the fastest way possible to make them uncomfortable. What you should say about it is absolutely nothing. Let me repeat that, say nothing, not even a compliment. If a cancer patient wants to talk about it, they will. I know some of this advice appears to conflict with something else I wrote. People are all different, and you have to pay attention to clues. If they fall asleep, it is time for you to leave. If they open their mouth to speak and then don't, stop dominating the conversation. If they are depressed and not in a happy mood, stop with the jokes and smiley face conversation. Too much sunshine speech can be annoying.

7. Finally, don't ignore your friend. People tend to back off when cancer is involved, which hurts emotionally.

8. Wait a minute, don't stop reading here. I have one more thing to say. Our mom, myself, and Shelley have to deal with environmental cancer and not inherited cancer. That means we all need to look around and understand the problems of this polluted earth. Drink bottled water, avoid processed food at least a little and do what you can to help heal mother earth before it is too late.

PS: Shelley here…I want to add one more thing to my sister's article. As cancer patients, we appreciate all your ideas and advice, but please ask us first if we want your medical suggestions. We become overloaded with new information from our doctors, and just trying to process it can be overwhelming.

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