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When someone you love has cancer

  • Reading time:13 mins read
  • Post category:Community / Memoirs

Lately I have been processing a lot about my cancer journey with Myxoid Liposarcoma, a soft tissue cancer I’d referred to as Ezmerelda (you can ready about it here: Part 1 & Part 2). There are over 50 different sarcomas and it’s so rare that in Mayo’s cancer research library they do not even have any info, just a web site:

2022-2023 has included: diagnosis, radiation therapy at Mayo Clinic, surgery to remove the cancer in my leg at Mayo, two post-surgery exams at Mayo, and 22 more to go (at Mayo and locally) before I’m officially cleared. In addition to, being a mother of two, a wife to a busy cattle rancher, running this photography business and working to keep Grandview Gallery’s renovation process going.

I have been so grateful to those who have walked this journey with me. I want to share some of the things what were incredibly meaningful to me and have helped me press on. The Lord has indeed given strength to endure, and part of that is through the encouragement and support of friends and family.

I’m actually going to share two lists. List #1 is what to do when someone you love is going through cancer. List #2 is what to avoid.

#1 How to support someone you know who is going through cancer:

  • Just sit together. Drink tea or coffee or ice cold water. Don’t feel the need to talk. They will carry the conversation. Take a page from Job’s three friends the first seven days: sit and listen. Look out the window together, crochet, read a real magazine or book. Always ask before coming over, don’t just show up.

Saying nothing sometimes says the most.

Emily Dickinson
  • Send texts sharing that you’re praying for them today (or thinking about them), but only if you actually have. False sincerity is known, and the Lord who knows all, can verify with your conscience.
  • Ask to pray for them the next time you see them and do it together right then.

Give a little gift of encouragement, send a card with a Bible verse that has helped you in tough times, flowers, an easy keeping plant (snake plants are one such friend). A few friends sent me a bracelet that I wore each time I went to my 18 radiation treatments.

A few gift ideas from small business: The Red Dates Herbal Tea Gift Box, Freedom Studios candles, macarons from CH Patisserie.

  • Offer to bring a meal on a certain day; offer to pick up a coffee or ice cream. Don’t linger unless invited to.
  • Ask if they are up to going out for coffee or ice cream, or a nice meal.
  • Babysit so they can go out with their spouse, or just a night off.
  • Offer to drive them to a treatment, as location allows.
  • Don’t feel the need to apologize for something you thought about doing but didn’t have time. There is no need to say anything, just let them know you care. They know you are busy and have a life, too. 🙂
  • Bless them financially, especially if treatments and doctors are many hours away. So many gave to help with all the unexpected travel and lodging expenses. Family helped take care of our cattle while we were gone for treatments and surgery. Family, friends and neighbors put up hay for us during the time of the summer when we had to be gone and the hay needed to be cut. I’m so grateful we had that hay for this past long winter!

I came across a list online of what many cancer survivors said happened to them. I could relate to many and have included them below:

#2 What not to say/do:

  • “Really, you have cancer? You don’t look that sick.”
  • “My _ died of cancer.”
  • “I know someone who had the same type of cancer and they just had a recurrence.” Not what I want to hear. Ever.
  • “Oh, that’s the good cancer. It’s so curable.”
  • “You’re so strong and brave! I could never go through what you’re going through.” Please remember I don’t have a choice.
  • “How did that happen?”
  • “If you didn’t know he has cancer and you met him you would never know it!!! He looks so healthy!!!” But they don’t see all the bad days.
  • “Is it bad?”
  • “Please stop just saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” and then leaving it at that. Rather, you can call them & ask “What specifically do you need done?” Better yet, call from the grocery store, “Do you need anything from the store?'”
  • “I know so & so who had the same type of cancer and they were just fine!” …or any variation of cancer stories.
  • “You need to get chemo and surgery but not radiation.” You’re not my doctor. 
  • “You don’t have it as bad as ____.” Please do not compare stories.
  • I just want to be treated like everyone else, included like everyone else as much as possible so that I can feel as close to normal as possible. No sugar coating it just honesty, friendship and love. How about just acknowledging that cancer is just plain horrible, period! Just offer to do something specific, could be any idea, just offer to do something! They will say yes or they will then feel comfortable actually asking for something they do need!

My own that were not on the list:

  • If you were told your loved one had cancer in a way that you wished was different, keep it to yourself. It’s incredibly overwhelming and when I was told I didn’t share my news with someone in the “right way” for them it was extremely hurtful and degrading.
  • Refrain from giving your medical advice. The friend with cancer already is more than overwhelmed with information, appointment dates, life to reschedule and so very much anxiety. The last thing they need is to be told that what they’re already doing is wrong.
  • Do not ignore them but also do not smother. Yes, cancer is awkward and you just don’t know what to do or say. Especially for introverts. A simple text with “Hi!” and the wave or orange heart emoji (which means caring) would be appreciated. I have family members who have never said a word to me, at all. So many times I’ve heard that family is there for you, especially in hard times. This is not always the case. Do what you can to change that in your family.
  • Do not say, “God’s got this,” or bombard them with Bible verses. As a Christian, I already know this and telling me so makes me feel like you think my faith in the Lord’s sovereignty has gone out the window. Yes, scripture is used to encourage and strengthen but also be sensitive to timing and approach.

It has been somewhat of a struggle for me to appear positive and upbeat about my cancer and survival. The Lord has indeed provided so much strength to endure but it truly is not easy. Most people do not see the hard days, including friends and family outside the home, and I’m also generally pretty good at hiding it with anyone outside of my home.

If you do see the hard days of your friend with cancer, consider yourself incredibly privileged but also tread with great caution and reread the do not list. Be very gentle.

I share this not so that now you feel like you’re walking on eggshells when you’re around someone with cancer. This is to bring awareness and give aid on how to support and show love. To think a little more before speaking, a practice that is always beneficial to strive for.

When all these have been said to me, I do know that there is genuine concern (most of the time) behind them. But there is a difference in those who have been supportive and shown me what List #1 looks like and those who have fallen in List #2. I will seek out those in List #1 should my cancer journey have another chapter.

Many times I felt guilty even sharing that I had cancer when I didn’t look sick. This was my misconception of what cancer looked like. Learn from this mistake.

Cancer does get very lonely and though I’m a person who is generally very comfortable being alone, the withdrawal of those I thought would be supportive is lonely. There is also survivor’s guilt and the ever harmful road of comparing one’s cancer journey to those who the cancer survivor views as having it worse, or who have passed on.

Recently I read these verses written by King David. Many times my Bible references events the psalm was mostly likely written around, but this one was not and I’m curious what had happened :

O Lord, all my longing is before You; my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes – it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.

Psalm 38:9-11

I know many of us have felt much of these same emotions. It is comforting that the Lord knows the longing and sees the sighing.

David also wrote the following when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him:

But I will sing of Your strength; I will sing aloud of Your steadfast love in the morning. For You have been to me a fortress in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to You; for You, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

Psalm 59:16-17

To those who lived out what it means to support one another, thank you! You have written the book for me when I didn’t know what to do for another.

May this post encourage and help you when someone you love has cancer.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Jill

    Thankyou for posting this Cristen,, the same advice go’s for other diseases as well. I appreciate the advice about what a person “can” do to help.

    1. Cristen

      Yes! 🙂 Thank you for mentioning that, Jill. I had meant to add a note regarding not just cancer but other physical hardships. Cancer is just the one I’m the most familiar at present. 🙂 Miss you!

  2. Eunice Cox

    Your thoughtful comments were good and so true! And they do apply to other health issues. Yes, there are those who truly care, but sometimes what they say comes out wrong. I do appreciate your thoughts. Reflections at the beginning of the blog is so pretty!

    1. Cristen

      Hi Eunice! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  3. Eunice Cox

    I thought your comments were very good. Yes, those lists can apply to other health issues. And, there are those who say something–mean well–and it comes out wrong! “Reflections” at the beginning of the blog is very nice!!

  4. Darcia Kovarik

    Thank you Cristen for sharing your thoughts and your journey and helping us to be better supporters for our friends & family. It is hard to know the ‘right thing’ to do or say when loved ones or even acquaintances are experiencing difficulties in their lives. You were so encouraging to me when I met you this last February at the BHSS. I very much appreciated your encouragement to me as an artist and your kind words. I will keep you in my thoughts & prayers. Please know that you were a blessing to me and I hope that I can pass on the wisdom & kindness you shared to others & pass that blessing on. May God continue to give you His strength and sustain you on this journey. Prayers & virtual hugs.

    1. Cristen

      Awww, Darcia! Thank you for your sweet words! The Lord always works in wonderful ways. 🙂

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