Do You Know What To Say To A Friend With Cancer?

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By Susan Adcox 

Not long ago, empathy greeting cards by Emily McDowell were trending on social media, and my friends were all applauding them, which sent me into a mild panic. 

McDowell is an artist who has had cancer and who was appalled by some of the saccharin and inappropriate cards she received during her treatment. Her line of cards is designed to express empathy for cancer patients while avoiding the phrases that often strike the wrong note. (My favorite of McDowell’s sentiments: “There is no card for this.”) cancer

I panicked after seeing a card stating that one’s illness shouldn’t be called a “journey,” “unless someone takes you on a cruise.”

“Journey” is one of the words that I have used often in emails and messages since my daughter Laurie was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. “Journey” seems appropriate to me for several reasons. My daughter, her children and extended family members are traveling a rough road. We started out in one place and are traveling to a different place – we hope, to wellness. The term does not imply an easy or relaxing trip. I would call a cruise a vacation or, as the Brits do, a holiday. But I would never call a cruise a journey. To me journeying suggests a certain amount of stress and even hardship. It also suggests that one may be quite different at the end of the passage, and that isn’t usually true of cruisers, unless you count the extra pounds they may put on.

cancerBefore I had a chance to ask my daughter about it, she posted something on Facebook about her “journey.” I breathed a sigh of relief and called her. Had she seen the empathy cards, I asked? Yes, she had, she said, and she understood the impetus for them. But really it seemed silly to be so picky about the ways in which people express their concern.

I agree. My daughter isn’t conventionally religious. She sometimes identifies as a transcendentalist, in company with Thoreau and Emerson. But since we live in the Bible Belt, she has hundreds of people praying for her. She has received a special prayer coverlet. On the other side of the coin, she has had people promise her “healing vibes.” And all of that is fine. In fact, it’s great.

Soon after my diagnosis, I went to my dentist, who also knows my daughter. I found myself blurting out the news of her diagnosis. My dentist said she would be praying for Laurie and added, “Oh, and I’ll have Nanny put her on her prayer list. When anyone needs prayers, we turn them over to Nanny!”

I like the idea that a great-grandmother who has never met my daughter is praying for her.

Of course, besides the people who have called and sent greeting cards and brought food and promised prayers, we’ve also had our share of pull-aways – friends who have never responded to learning of Laurie’s diagnosis. Some people advise that those who don’t show up in times of trial aren’t true friends, but I have a more charitable opinion. I think that some people can’t cope with hardship in your family because it means that it could happen in their family. Their response is denial, because they can’t stand to think of the possibilities. So I’m giving them a pass for now.

When I happened to run into one of my friends who hadn’t spoken to me since Laurie’s diagnosis, she apologized and said, “I didn’t know what to say. It’s terrible. What can you say?”

Even when there is nothing to say, blessings on those who say it. Because those who are suffering need support.

As they journey. 

susan adcoxSusan Adcox is the grandparent expert on About.com and author of Stories From My Grandparent: A Heirloom Journal For Your Grandchild. A former teacher, she has seven grandchildren.

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Please see related links below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related links: Taking Care: When Your Grown Child Needs You (my first piece in GRAND)

When a Family Member Has Cancer: Helping Grandchildren Cope 

When a Parent Is Ill: How Grandparents Can Help (on About.com)

Preparing for a Grandparent Death (on About.com)

Grandparents on About.com 

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