Listen With Your Heart
Summing up: Talking to the person with cancer
Let them take the lead. If they want to talk, be a good listener. Listen to what is said and how it’s said.
Try to be OK with silence. It may help people with cancer to focus their thoughts. Constantly talking because you are nervous can be irritating. Sometimes silence is comforting and allows them to express even more of their thoughts and feelings.
Try to maintain eye contact. This gives the person a sense that you are really present and listening carefully.
Touching, smiling, and warm looks can get past the barriers of the illness to the person you know and love.
Try not to give advice. Giving advice is hard when you are not in the person’s situation. It’s safer to ask questions or listen.
Do not say, “I know how you feel.” The person may become angry because you really don’t know how they feel.
If you’re feeling tearful, explain this to the person with cancer. Be brief in your explanation. Stay away for a time until you can be there without the patient having to comfort you.
People with cancer don’t always want to think or talk about their disease. This makes them feel like their only identity is “cancer patient.” Laughing and talking about other things are often welcome distractions.
Try to do as many things together as possible. If you used to play cards—play cards now! If you used to go to the movies together—keep going to movies. Use your judgment about your loved one’s energy level. Ask them if they need to take rest breaks between activities. Try not to take the effects of the illness too lightly, but don’t be overprotective. Keep inviting and urging the person to do things with you and others.
Encourage other friends to visit. Maybe they would be willing to do errands, cook meals, or care for the children. If they can’t visit, ask them to write, email, or call.
Continue to visit. Put the person with cancer on your weekly “to do” list. Cancer can be a very lonely and isolating experience. Your loved one can’t always ask for help because it’s hard for even the person with cancer to know exactly what will help! Stay in touch.
Most of all, be yourself. Try not to worry about whether you are doing things the right way. Let your words and your actions come from your heart. Your compassion and genuine caring are the most important things you can express right now.
Last Medical Review: 01/10/2013
Last Revised: 02/20/2014