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Understanding Proper Cancer Etiquette

cancer patient

To-Do or Not To-Do? Navigating Cancer Etiquette

It is not always easy to know how to act, what to say, or what to do when someone you know has cancer. Whether the person is a friend, co-worker, neighbor, or family member, no one wants to say or do anything that might be intrusive or make them uncomfortable or upset.

However, it is essential not to ignore what they are experiencing. Cancer patients derive tremendous benefits – physical and emotional – from knowing they have support from the people around them.

There are long lists of what to do and what not to do when someone you know has cancer. But there is one action that seems universally acceptable: Sending gifts.

Surveys show that people with cancer respond positively to receiving thoughtful and useful gifts from people. Why? It lets them know they are in someone’s thoughts and also provides them with tools to actually help them feel better.

At Rock the Treatment, we can make things easier for you to do the right thing. Shop our cancer care packages to someone you know who is undergoing cancer treatments is a perfect way to show you care.

What To Do When Someone Has Cancer

According to Josette Snyder, a cancer care nurse at Cleveland Clinic, cancer etiquette is acting in appropriately empathetic and friendly ways, ways that show you understand the impact cancer can have on the person’s entire life. In addition to giving gifts, there are other things to consider that fall within the bounds of generally appropriate cancer etiquette.

Some suggestions on things to do and ways to act when someone has cancer include:

Be present, so they know you care – Sometimes, physical presence or proximity is enough. Talking is not always required. For example, you might have a friend with cancer who is recovering from treatment and wants to lie in bed all day. They might find comfort just having you somewhere in the house.

Be an active listener – When someone wants to talk, let them. If they want to discuss minute details about the weather forecast or their favorite TV show because it is a good distraction, engage. If they want to talk about their feelings about being sick, listen without judgment.
You don’t need to offer your opinions, only support. Make plenty of eye contact so the person knows you are listening attentively.

Help them feel in control of their lives – How can you do this? Encourage them to resume any activities they can or help them create new routines. For example, if they can handle going to the grocery store, offer to go with them instead of for them. If it is okay for them to take a walk, start a lunch-break walking routine at work. If they can participate in a carpool, let them.

If you feel like you said or did something wrong, apologize – You won’t always say or do the right thing, and what is right on one day might be wrong on another. People with cancer can be emotional, anxious, and tired, all with good reason. If you sense (or are told) you said something inappropriate or did something unwelcome, apologize and move on.

Little things mean a lot – Consider small ways you can show you care, especially if you cannot be physically present to lend your support. For example, meals, gift cards, funny greeting cards, gifts, or little surprises are often received with joy and gratitude by cancer patients. You can send a cancer care box with items that many people undergoing cancer treatments covet, like lotions, hats, coloring books, or anti-nausea candies. Make sure the recipient understands there is no need for a thank you note!

Think about how you would feel and what you would want or need – Consider putting yourself in their shoes. How would you want people to treat you? What would be helpful or hurtful?
Thinking about how you would feel if you were fighting cancer might be the best way to guide your actions toward someone else.

Be forgiving – Whether the person in your life with cancer is a casual acquaintance from the office, your oldest friend, or a family member, remember to be forgiving.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatments can be devastating for many people and can affect every aspect of their lives. Go easy on them. Forgive easily. Be empathetic. Show compassion. You should stay on the right track if you remember these things!

What Not To Do When Someone You Know Has Cancer

Again, if you channel your empathy, chances are you will do and say the right thing most of the time. But, here are suggestions of what not to do when someone you know has cancer.

Don’t make it about you – This can be difficult. We often look for ways to “connect” by talking about something that happened to us or other people we know. By saying “I know just how you are feeling,” or “my friend had cancer too and…” you might think you are lending support by sharing common ground, but it often does not come across that way to the listener. It can be very alienating.

Avoid making references to religious beliefs – Don’t assume that the person with cancer is spiritual or religious. Avoid some of those over-used sayings about “God giving people what they can handle” or “God giving his strongest soldiers the toughest battles.” While your intentions might be good, try not to impose your values on your friend. A cancer diagnosis can, for many people, throw their belief system into total chaos. Be sensitive to this and don’t make assumptions.

Don’t tell them what to do or what you are going to do – Don’t forget that your friend is an adult and deserves respect. Don’t tell them what they need; ask them instead. You can be persuasive, but don’t be pushy. The last thing your friend needs is to be disrespected, steamrolled, or stripped of their decision-making powers.

Don’t pretend everything is okay all the time – If you sense the person wants to talk about “real” things- that they feel sick, are afraid, are angry, or hate the way they look, let them.
Don’t minimize their feelings; your role is not always to cheer them up or redirect them to happy thoughts. It might be good for them to vent and have someone validate their feelings.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be difficult for the patient, their family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Everyone experiences their illness and recovery process differently, but all cancer patients can benefit from proper cancer etiquette. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind when you learn that someone has cancer. They can help you provide support and empathy that can make a meaningful impact on someone’s life.

Send A Cancer Gift Box To Someone With Cancer

If someone you love has cancer, send them a helpful cancer care package from Rock The Treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation gift baskets are packed with the essentials needed to ease side effects of treatment, as well as enhance physical and mental well-being. See all of our cancer gift baskets and find the one that best supports their journey.


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