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Life Lessons: Don't say this to cancer patients

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer it’s easy to become tongue-tied. You don’t want to say the wrong thing, but how do you know what that is? Here are some of the worst well-meaning comments.

While everyone’s experience with cancer is unique, there’s one thing they all need; a little more help from family and friends. But don’t say, “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.” That places the burden on the patient. Instead, be specific. Offer to cook dinner next week, walk the dog, watch the kids or go grocery shopping.

A common question cancer patients hear and one you should never ask is, “Are you a smoker?” This is like asking, “Did you cause your cancer?” People who are diagnosed agonize over why they got the disease, asking about their health habits makes it worse.

And reminding them to avoid stress and stay positive also isn’t helpful. Cancer patients constantly hear about the power of positive thinking, but stress is almost impossible to avoid when you have cancer, and there will be days when they simply don’t feel very positive. Don’t make them feel like they’re sabotaging their own recovery.

But in the end, most cancer patients say they would rather have a friend say the wrong thing than say nothing at all. So don’t avoid them, offer them the comfort of your presence.

According to Barbara Andersen, a researcher and professor of psychology, two of the best things to say to someone with cancer are: “I’m sorry you’re ill” and “I’m thinking of you.”

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