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Cancer Etiquette

Linda (Kaywood) Bilyeu is a self-published author. Her books are available on Amazon. She writes from the heart—there is no other way.

Cancer Sucks

Cancer invaded my life many years ago. I'm not a personal victim of cancer, but I feel I've been victimized by witnessing the agony my loved ones have endured.

I personally witnessed events and statements in their lives while they were fighting the beast.

I feel compelled to share some of the common sense knowledge I've learned over the years.

Possibly by me sharing this story another cancer survivor or fighter won't have to hear or deal with uncomfortable moments or questions.

There are many people who never had to deal with cancer, to them it's just something that happens to others which is understandable.

Those people might not know what to say or do when they hear someone is struggling to save their life.

I hope this helps you learn what to say or what not to say when your encountered with an awkward situation.

This is my opinion and the responses I've heard from victims during my journey.


Think Before You Speak

Don't ever, ever tell someone "You have the good cancer!" There is no such thing as a good cancer, cancer is cancer and all cancers are deadly but treatable if caught early. Early detection is of vital, importance but sometimes there are no symptoms. Either way there are No Good Cancers!

Don't be afraid to ask a cancer victim or their family member how they are feeling. How their treatments are going. Some people think they shouldn't approach the subject because they don't know if it's the right time, there is no such thing as the right time - just ask - if they don't want to discuss it they will tell you that. On the other hand, they might need to vent so ask only if you truly care and want to hear their response no matter how lengthy it might be.

Don't assume cancer is contagious and by discussing it you might catch it. That's impossible but that question has been asked, oddly enough.

Don't say "You don't look like you have cancer"! How is someone with cancer supposed to look? The monster is internally gnawing away at their organs, their hearts are heavy with sadness, that's not always possible to see. Not all cancer patients are bed-ridden waiting to die. Medical technology has come a long way in treating cancer and victims can now live a lot longer and have more productive lives.

Don't say "I'll pray for you" unless you truly intend to pray for them. Granted there are some people who keep a list of ones to pray for but I believe that most people say that because they feel it's customary. If you intend to actually pray for that person than say it, if not something such as "I'll be thinking of you", "You'll be in my thoughts" or "break a leg" will suffice.

Don't offer to chauffeur a patient to an appointment or hold someones hand during a procedure unless you intend to. Many people out of the goodness of the hearts offer assistance and don't come through when needed so please don't offer and get their hopes up unless you are able to be there.

Do call them. A phone call to say hello and share some memories or to simply talk about the weather are appreciated. Conversations don't have to revolve around cancer. Trust me, patients want to forget they have the beast sometimes and escape into your world if even for a little while.

Don't ignore them and assume by doing so there isn't an issue. Cancer isn't that easy to get rid of. Your loved one is ill and now is the time they need interaction from you. Your support is an important part of healthy healing. Without support a cancer victim might not have a purpose to fight as hard as they should.

Do suggest to stop by for a visit, bring along a delicious cake and savor the moment . Your heart will be enlightened by your meaningful visit. Your loved one will cherish the time you spent together. Even if no words are spoken your presence alone could make their day.

Do offer to cook a meal, mow the lawn, babysit the children etc, these deeds might seem small to you but will be huge in the mind of your loved one.

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Don't preach to them - if they drink, smoke, eat a pizza...don't tell them it's unhealthy, don't you think they already know that. It's their bodies to do with what they please. We all make choices in life, show them the respect by allowing them to make theirs.

Don't suggest alternative forms of treatment, healthier lifestyles, vitamins or supplements, trust me they have been there and heard it and possibly tried it. That's what their physician and Google is intended for.

Do remember silence is deadly and so is cancer. One we have control over and one we don't. Be the best you can be and show your support without being overly sympathetic which can actually make your loved one feel worse.

Don't forget humor is the best medicine. Laugh with them until you both can't laugh anymore and then laugh even more.

Do remember that once a patient is diagnosed their world and their loved ones world has changed. Within those few minutes during the dreaded news, they view life in a different perspective. What was significant yesterday, might not be as significant today. They are now on a mission for a cure. To beat the beast. You will pick up on their clues. They are garnishing all the strength they have for their upcoming fight. Your support and understanding is crucial at this point.

Don't ask "Are you cancer free now"? Ugh! There is no such thing as cancer free! We were all born with cancer cells in our bodies. These cells are inactive until they become active. So you get cancer when there are more factors that promote cancer growth than factors that inhibit cancer growth. It’s that simple.

Never, ever, ever use the word Prostrate for Prostate!


Be Considerate

I'm not judging anyone. I understand how it might be uncomfortable and you might be at a loss for words. But words aren't always needed. Actions are just as comforting. A gesture doesn't have to be grand, a simple gesture means the most.

I'm an advocate for victims of cancer and their loved ones. We all handle difficult situations in different ways. This is my way. My terminology might offend someone and for that I apologize but my personal journey has brought me to this point.

In 2002 I lost my mother to a six year battle with Colon Cancer. I fought alongside my husband during his seven year battle with Prostate Cancer until he passed on July 6, 2015. The emotional roller coaster takes it's toll at times. My heart goes out to all cancer fighters and their families.

Wishing all victims, victors and caregivers well.

To Cancer Victors

Do be your own advocate for your health. Doctors are human and they make mistakes. No one knows your body like you.

Without thoroughly explaining all of your symptoms no matter how trivial you think they might be your physician won't be able to effectively diagnose you.

Keep in mind you made the choice to "hire" your physician for his abilities.

So, unless you feel comfortable with his performance, you are free to speak your mind until you receive the answers that you are comfortable with.

Wishing you the best of health on your journey.

American Cancer Society 100th Birthday


© 2011 Linda Bilyeu


somethgblue from Shelbyville, Tennessee on July 23, 2015:

Never one to shy away from voicing my unique perspective, I was told that sharing with my family my view that my Father, as he was in life was blazing a trail (always breaking fresh snow on our X-cross country ski trips) and still being a leader by going first to the next dimension, so that he would be there for us when it was our turn.

My stoic resolve and lack of outward emotions helped other family members deal with their overwhelming grief. My Father taught me to be strong on the outside so that others could rally around the calm feelings in a stormy sea of moving emotions and gain strength from it, it seemed to work and I was told it helped.

Often a different perspective can put a difficult situation into a new light and reveal any love that might get buried by sorrow.

Linda Bilyeu (author) from Orlando, FL on July 23, 2015:

Hi Sherry, Thank you. Just be yourself is the best advice I could give. Some words are better than none. :)