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The Top 13 Things to Do or Say and Not to Say or Do to Someone with Breast Cancer

A list to share with those well-meaning people who really don’t know what to say or do, by Janet Thompson, author of Dear God, They Say It’s Cancer

After I joked about coming up with a list of the Top Ten Things Not to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer, I read an article from a wife who lost her husband in the 9/11 tragedy. She had put together a similar list for those who have encountered the loss of a loved one for the same reason I finally did: people are clueless.

Here is my version specific for breast cancer, and hopefully the Lord gives you courage to share it with those well-meaning people who really don’t know what to say or do. They will be grateful. Some people actually avoid us just because they are afraid they will put their foot in their mouth or because words escape them. In their desire to prevent hurt, they create it. We feel alone and abandoned because others are uncomfortable around us. Try using this list. (I expanded the list to the Top Thirteen, then added thirteen do’s, as well.)

DON’T…
1. Talk about people you know with breast cancer. Good or bad stories are not helpful.
DO…
1. Let me talk about mine and listen.
DON’T…
2. Tell me God is in control, has a plan, or knew it was going to happen.
DO…
2. Just show me the love of God.

DON’T…
3. Say “I’ll pray for you” unless you mean it. I will be counting on those prayers.
DO…
3. Pray for and with me.

DON’T…
4. Say, “Call me if you need anything.” I don’t know what you are willing to do and might be too sick or sad to pick up the phone.
DO…
4. Offer to do something specific; then do it.

DON’T…
5. Look at me like I am dying. I can read your body language and eyes, and it scares me.
DO…
5. Show genuine compassion and concern.

DON’T…
6. Avoid me. It makes me feel rejected, different.
DO…
6. Keep normal contact with me.

DON’T…
7. Act like nothing is happening, minimize my situation, or compare me with someone else.
DO…
7. Take your cue from me as to how comfortable I am talking about it.

DON’T…
8. Tell others, unless you have asked if it is OK.
DO…
8. Ask me if it is OK to tell others, and honor my wishes.

DON’T…
9. Feel bad if I can’t return phone calls or cards.
DO…
9. Keep calling and leave a message. I love to hear your voice and look forward to the mail.

DON’T…
10. Be resentful of how my illness affects you.
DO…
10. Help me learn to live with my “new normal” that might also change my life.

DON’T…
11. Forget about me after the initial flurry of the diagnosis. This will be a long haul, and I need you.
DO…
11. Let me grieve, and understand that takes time. Stick with me.

DON’T…
12. Feel you have to say you “understand” how I feel. If you have not had breast cancer yourself,
you don’t understand.
DO…
12. Let me talk without trying to fix it or feel you have to comment. I might just need a listening ear.

DON’T…
13. Ask me questions like, Are you having them both taken off ? Or on both sides? In fact, don’t ask me any personal questions about my condition.
DO…
13. Let me tell you what I am comfortable saying. Keep your curiosity curtailed. I will tell you what I want you to know right now.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Janet Thompson, author of Dear God They Say It’s Cancer: A Companion Guide for Women on the Breast Cancer Journey (Copyright © 2006 by Janet Thompson), quit her secular career to go into full-time lay ministry, starting the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. She is the founder and director of About His Work Ministries, also known as AHW Ministries, and is a frequent speaker on topics relevant to today’s Christian women. Janet has authored several products for her Woman to Woman ministry, including Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter. Janet and her husband, Dave, have four married children and nine grandchildren. They make their home in Lake Forest, California.

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