Saying the wrong thing
According to the National Cancer Registry, more than 10 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer every year and it is important to know how to support a loved one.
Sister Rumay Oosthuizen, manager of Nursing Services at the Helderberg Hospice, says that in an attempt to say the right compassionate words, one can often end up saying the wrong thing.
Oosthuizen and her nursing team, who specialise in the care of patients facing terminal illness, consider the following to be inappropriate words of sympathy:
1. ‘I know how you feel.’
“Everyone’s got a cancer story,” says Dennis Citrin, author of Knowledge is Power: What Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer. He writes that every individual cancer patient will have their own experience of the illness, so avoid relating the negatives of another person’s condition.
2. ‘Your family will be fine. It is not that bad.’
According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), cancer doesn’t only affect the patient. It affects their family members and friends as well. Caregivers or family members of someone with cancer might also experience some form of emotional stress as part of the natural human response.
3. ‘It can’t be that sore.’
Downplaying a person’s pain may not be the best mood-lifting strategy. According to the Helderberg Hospice, cancer can be painful and treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can potentially be an additional source of pain.
4. ‘Just be grateful for what you have.’
According to Dr Stan Goldberg, author of Loving, Supporting and Caring for the Cancer Patient, cancer patients too often encounter people who assume the role of cheerleader, saying things like “Don’t worry about it.” “You’ll be fine!” However, he observed, “Words of optimism may work in the short run, but in the long run they can induce guilt if the cancer is more virulent and defeats a person’s best effort.”