Things to do/say
- Tell the person about what you are doing. I get some very interesting e-mails and Kathy, my friend from the lake, even sends me real mail quite frequently.
- Offer to do practical things, don't insist, but be ready when asked. I have many friends/family members/colleagues who have done a lot of nice things for me, picking me up from medical appointments, helping to put together new furniture, bringing me homemade soup, doing some of my jobs at home and work for me, bringing me books to read, suggesting good online shows to watch, and many other things I have forgotten to mention.
- Share your expertise. I am lucky to have many friends/family members who have some good advice either based on their experiences with cancer or other chronic diseases, or due to their professional training. I have learned a lot from them, and really appreciate it.
- Understand that some days are worse than others. On the bad days, don't expect too much from the cancer patient, but be ready to engage with them on the good days. I think it is important to have activities to keep the brain going.
- If you are a medical person on the treatment team, talk to the patient using language appropriate to the patient's education and interest in their condition. In my case, I want all the data and technical information, and pointers to papers to read.
- If you notice the patient getting grumpy, see if you can feed them somthing that still appeals to them .... maybe they don't feel well and so are not eating enough ...
Things not to say/do
- Do NOT start your e-mail with "I hope this message finds you well." or equivalent. Some how this has become a standard greeting on e-mails and it drives me nuts. A person being treated for cancer is not well.
- Do NOT ask too much about how a person is feeling.
- Do NOT call it a "Cancer Journey". As my friend Paula says, "My trip to Iceland was a journey, cancer is a trial." I like to call it my cancer schlepp, defined here as a "tedious and difficult journey". If you want a technical term, perhaps "treatment pathway".
- Do NOT assume that the cancer patient can't do anything - let the patient decide what they can and cannot do.
- If you are a medical person on the treatment team, do NOT make the patient wait a long time, and do NOT make them put on the stupid hospital gown unless absolutely necessary.
- Do NOT assume that a cancer patient, and especially a female cancer patient, needs to make efforts to look "normal". For example, it is ok just to lose your hair and go bald or have a close shave. No need to put pressure on patients to wear wigs/hats or put on makeup to disguise their sickness.