Advice for dealing with cancer patients

It’s awkward, isn’t it? You find out someone you care about just got diagnosed with cancer. It’s terrifying and you want to be there for them but you don’t know what to do, say, or even how to act.

As a cancer patient myself, I know we aren’t exactly the easiest people to deal with. We forget things easily, we get stressed out, anxiety is at an all time high, and we are frightened. Cancer is traumatic. While we are literally fighting for our lives, we are simultaneously trying to maintain friendships and relationships with family, have a little bit of a life when possible, and trying to keep a sliver of normalcy in our far-from-normal worlds. As you can probably imagine, it’s a lot to handle and there’s no guidebook on how to deal with the emotional side of cancer. I’ve said things I didn’t mean and I’ve been irrational at times because of it.

That takes me to the biggest piece of advice I can give if you know someone fighting cancer: just be there. Be there for them in a way that money can’t buy. The one thing in the world that cancer patients need more than anything is emotional support.

We have so many brand new emotions and feelings running through our bodies and half of the time, we don’t even understand them ourselves. How do you deal with something that you don’t understand? I’m not sure how to answer that yet, but what I will say is we aren’t always looking for advice. Sometimes we simply just need someone to listen and care.

There have been times when I’ve tried to talk to people about some of the emotional stress I’m dealing with and it goes so very wrong. I’ve been told I’m just throwing a pity party for myself. I’ve also been told (indirectly) that I was a burden for talking about my problems when other people also have things going on in their lives. The reactions I have gotten have sometimes been things like “here we go again…” or “yeah, yeah, you’re going through a lot… we know” in a sarcastic tone. I get it and I’m sure they aren’t completely wrong, but it’s frustrating and so isolating because I don’t know how to handle it. I’ve never felt more alone in my life and I think other cancer patients would agree. 

While it’s true that when one person has cancer, everyone around them also has it, everyone else has it in a very different way. Think of cancer as a big puzzle. Everyone the patient knows gets a piece of the cancer puzzle, so to speak. Coworkers get a piece, friends get a piece, family members get a few pieces and they’re all trying to figure out where their piece belongs and what to do with it. The thing is, the patient has the full puzzle to deal with and is trying to put all of those pieces together. Sticking with the puzzle analogy, dealing with all of those pieces at once is easily as overwhelming and confusing as trying to put together a 10,000 piece puzzle. I’ve never finished a puzzle that big, but now I’m being forced to try to solve it every day. Sometimes I feel like I’m finally making progress on my cancer puzzle, but then it turns out I got one of the pieces wrong and I have to restart again.

I heard this the other day and it’s so true- people will usually forget the things you said to them and sometimes they’ll forget the things you did for them, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. I’ll leave you with this final advice: Take time out of your day to make a phone call. Go visit your friends dealing with cancer (as long as you’re not sick!!). Learn how to listen without trying to solve their problems. Give them a long hug. Realize that just because you may not understand what they’re going through doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. Ask questions and make sure they’re ok, especially if you can tell something’s bothering them. Ignoring that only makes them feel like you don’t care. Have patience with them and simply just be there. They’ll appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.

EDIT: I do have to say that I have many people who have been there for me emotionally. They know who they are and I appreciate you all! Also, please don’t take this as me downplaying what the friends and families of cancer patients are going through. It’s tough on everyone and I’m fully aware of that. I’m simply offering advice from my perspective that I truly feel would help everyone involved. To be fair, if anyone wants to share advice for cancer patients from a friends/family/caregivers’ perspective, I’m all ears!

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30 thoughts on “Advice for dealing with cancer patients

  1. Thank you so much for writing on this particular subject. My best friend was recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer and I’ve been trying to make sure I’m helping her that’s most beneficial to her. It makes me happy to know that just listening and being there does help her.

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  2. Great you were on the air ! We are excited for you to return full time! Really liked your beach posts on Instagram ! Thinking positive thoughts for you!
    Mrs. Marsh
    Virginia Beach

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  3. Crystal, shame on anyone who doesn’t understand that Love is free and so easy to give. Thank you for explaining exactly what is needed and just maybe it will help a lot of people, starting with you. We’re listening and caring too. God Bless You!

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  4. It’s very hard for the spouse of a cancer patient. My wife had problems coping with my cancer surgery. Thankfully i am now 2 years cancer free.

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    1. It’s very hard on everyone and I was not trying to down play what caregivers go through. I was just trying to offer a simple solution that I think may help. I’m so glad to hear you are now cancer free!!

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  5. love this post. thanks for sharing! I don’t personally know you but I am always willing to lend an ear! 🙂
    Keep on fighting! You got this!

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  6. Such great advice. Now if all who read this can apply it to all those suffering from a terrible disease. There is no good disease; so wrap your arms around those suffering from Alzheimers, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinsons, and many many more suffering daily from some debilitating diseases. Keep them in your prayers and extend any little kindness and love that you can. God Bless and thank you for that Crystal. Return soon!!

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  7. Thank you Crystal. This is so helpful. My husband, myself and a ton of our friends are rooting for you! Keep on grinding! You got this!
    All our love and prayers.
    Joe and Cindy DaBiero

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  8. Love the story the other day abou 9 year old you got letter from bought tears to my eyes to be strong.I pray for you and family every day im friends with mom strong lady good night god bless him 💘 love you 💋💋💞💞❤❤😘😘

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  9. Crystal, you might want to be prepared for next month-Friday Nights. Some high schools (football teams) might want you to go on the field and toss the coin during October-Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You stated in your memo that folks in your situation want to be valued and wanted. Conducting the coin toss is a rare event very few folks have that honor. Something to think about.

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  10. Thanks for the insight, Crystal. May you always know the Lord is with you! May you feel His Presence and His embrace. May you know that you are thought of and prayed for. God loves you!

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  11. Crystal forget all the naysayers.. All u need to do is focus on getting better. You havethe right to feel sorry for your self at moments. I know u you r to strong to dwell on that but for so long anyways. All your energy shouldn’t be having to fix a puzzle brought on by other peoples negativity.. It looks and sounds like you are getting stronger everyday. Keep it up and fight the good fight…

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  12. Hi Crystal…… thank you for your very honest description of what you are going through. I think people need to hear this. Sometimes when people don’t really look sick, people don’t really know what they are dealing with, do they? I’ve been lucky enough to avoid this terrible disease throughout my life but have gone through it with friends and even former students. Emotional support, hugs, patience, and listening are about all we can do for someone we know and love dealing with cancer. I have wished I could make it go away for someone I loved. The treatment is often the worst part isn’t it? My prayer for you continues to be that the rest of your treatment time will pass quickly and become easier to tolerate, you will get a clean bill of health, and you can resume your life as it was BC! I miss seeing you every morning. (FYI, I sent you an on-line word game request via your work email. Thought it might help pass the time on days you don’t feel so great). Fran

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  13. Amen. I am now trying to get over resentment for those I feel down played my cancer like i just had a cold. Never called to talk, barely saw anyone. It woyld have been nice to have someone sit with me and watch movies from time to time. Or let me talk and cry if I needed to. Thanks for letting people know.

    Kim

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  14. Oh my goodness, words of wisdom! I believe everyone needs to read this and take the words to heart. Shame on those that say your having a “pity party “, you are dealing with something that they probably have never dealt with, so I am truly grateful and blessed to know you and what you are going through. Stay strong my dear and if you believe in God, trust that He has you in His hands. All my love, you and your family are in my prayers.

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  15. Thank you for this post…would of been helpful when my brother in law was going thru cemo. You are so strong and thru it all you continue to encourage and share. Love and light to you. 💛

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  16. Thank you for sharing this with us, you are such an inspiration and a guide. Your post helped me in so many ways, I cannot thank you enough. You truly are a guide helping all of us through this awkward and humbling disease – Again thanks

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  17. Hi Crystal Thank you for being so genuine and transparent and for sharing – for taking the time and energy to write even though you are probably very fatigued and maybe not feeling up to all of this at times. I’ve never had cancer but i took care of my mom for 2 years and i can tell you i felt like i had it with her. I had the pain of exhaustion and the pain of watching her suffer and feeling helpless because there was nothing i could do. She lived with us so it was 24/7 for our family. She had stage 4 colon cancer when she got her diagnosis. She fought it for 2 years – chemo & radiation then a colostomy then cystostomies. She had 3 bags. So it was a few months emptying poop and pee bags for me, my daughters, and my husband. And pain med schedules. And appointments, and lots of long nights & days in the hospital. Sometimes its really hard for the caregivers to “care” because we’re so busy with working, cleaning, nursing. Then the pain pump came and there was no more of my mom. She just faded away. And our time for talking and laughing and love was gone. What sucks is i miss her so much and i feel like i missed out on just being with her because taking care of her was so tiring. Being a caregiver is really hard when you dont have the resources to get some help. When i look back though, i wish i would have just hugged her more and kissed her more and told her i loved her more and held her hand more – instead of everything else i was doing or actually, in addition to everything else i was doing! But i was so tired too … and there were times i didnt know how awful it was for her because she put on a smile and brave face for us … being brave and super positive sometimes maybe makes others think you dont need sympathy. Its awkward. Sometimes others are following their loved one’s lead – people don’t want to act like they feel sorry for you. I wanted my mom to feel normal – not sick. You know? Its difficult for us “outsiders” too! We dont really understand how it feels – how could we? So then my advice is let people know what you need. Because we couldnt possibly know. You are going to get thru this and many many years ahead for you but while you’re going through this awful-ness(major understatement) let yourself be what you are feeling so us outsiders know what to do! You’re a celeb too – so that puts some pressure on you as well. Dont let it! Just concentrate on getting better. love and prayers, Sara

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