What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

Almost all of us encounter situations where we don’t know the right thing to say. Unfortunately, one of the most common and difficult of the situations is when we have to talk to somebody who has been diagnosed with cancer. Whether it be a family member, friend, coworker, or ourselves, when we are told someone we know has cancer we often do not know what to say.
On April 13, four of my friends and colleagues will be addressing the situation at a Leaders Connect breakfast. Heather Feldkamp, Kathy Macdonald, Larry Eiler, and Steve Sarns, have all struggled with cancer over the last few years. Fortunately, this time they are either in remission or cancer free. At the breakfast they will be sharing the lessons that they learn from their experience with cancer. You won’t want to miss this powerful and informative event.  Follow this link to register.
I recently read a marvelous book, by a Kate Bowler, “Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I Have Loved“. Kate is a 35 year old mother who was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer. Her experience with cancer motivated her to write this book which contains a section about the difficulty of communicating with someone who has cancer.
She lists things she found helpful:

  1. “Can I bring you a meal this week…or any kind of gift offering?”
  2. “Tell the person they are a great or beautiful person.”
  3. “I am so grateful to hear about how you are doing.  I just want you to know I am on your team.”
  4. “Can I give you a hug?”
  5. “Oh my friend, that sounds so hard”
  6. “Silence”

Things that Kate wished people didn’t say:

  1. “Well at least…”
  2. “In my long life I’ve learned that…”
  3. “It’s going to get better I promise….”
  4. “God needed an angel”
  5. “Everything happens for a reason”
  6. “I’ve done some research”
  7. “When my aunt had cancer”
  8. “So how are your treatments going? How are your really?” Bowler goes on to say about this one: “This is the toughest one of all. I can hear you trying to understand my world and be on my side. But picture the worst thing that has ever happened to you. Got it? Now try to put it in a sentence.  Now say it aloud fifty times a day. Does your head hurt? Do you feel sad? Me too.  Solet’s just see if I want to talk about it today because sometimes I do and sometimes I want a hug and a recap of American Ninja Warrior.”

Kate sums it up, “The truth is that no one knows what to say.  It’s awkward. Pain is awkward. Tragedy is awkward.  People’s weird, suffering bodies are awkward.  But take the advice of one man wrote me with his policy: Show up and shut up.”

What do you think about these ideas?  Please feel free to share your advice on my here. Dr Rob

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