WTF do I say to someone who just got diagnosed?
Acknowledgement is everything.
No-one expects you to know what to say. But saying something is better than saying nothing at all, so get it done. It could be as simple as “I’m sorry. This is shit. I’m thinking of you. I love you”. Or an emoji. Seriously.
Don’t make empty gestures out of awkwardness or pure panic. They’ll only disappoint.
The most important thing you can do is LISTEN.
They might need to vent, cry, get hammered or just do nothing at all. Don’t try to fix the problem (you can’t), but making yourself available to be there for them speaks volumes.
- I’m here for you mate. When can I pop over? Drop you a food shop? Come to chemo with you? I’m at your disposal.
- What can I do for you right now? Shall we jump on a call?
- Don’t worry about [x], I’ll cancel. I’ll be right there.
- As your partner, friend, family member etc. I know you don’t feel like it but you are handling this so well and really inspire me. I’m really proud of you.
- It sounds like it has been really rough and tough recently. I see you and I care about you so much my sweet.
- That sounds so hard, I’m really sorry.
- I love you buddy.
- I may not fully understand how this feels, but I’m here to listen and to try. You’re not alone.
Unless you hear otherwise, checking in on your pal with some standard small talk will be appreciated. It doesn’t need to be everyday cancer chat. Instead chew the fat. Have they seen the latest TV show everyone’s talking about? What do they reckon about a news story or bit of celeb goss? Tried any new recipes lately? How’s their Hinge game going?
Even if they don’t reply, or engage less often, please don’t take this personally. They’ve likely shut down or don’t have the capacity right now. Instead reaching out with a quick ‘Thinking about you’ text is much better than asking a question that needs to be answered and can go a long way towards helping them feel less alone.
Big brownie points for those who go off and get educated on their loved ones’ cancer. Knowing ahead of time what the treatment plan might be, possible side effects and valuable resources that might be useful is a radical act of love in our book. Cancer is overwhelming and having to regurgitate your medical updates is nothing but draining. Getting clued up alleviates stresses on their energy levels and they’ll thank you for it.
DO NOT SAY:
- But you don’t look ill.
- You’re too young to get cancer.
- Have they said how long you’ve got?
- Will you lose your hair?
- If you can get it, anyone can.
- Have you tried the celery juice diet?
- Oh I know someone who had that… and died.
- At least you don’t have…
- At least you got the good cancer.
- Well, I mean, any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Don’t ask if someone’s ok if you’re not prepared to hear ‘no’. Seriously.
Get comfortable with hearing a negative answer and know how to respond to it with compassion.
Don’t diminish or dismiss people’s struggles and emotions just because you feel uncomfortable.
If someone tells you about a procedure they’ve just had or a new side effect, don’t suggest they ‘look on the bright side’ or ‘count their blessings’. You can say it’s shit. Because it is.
And definitely don’t say, ‘Be grateful you’re still alive!’. Ever.
- OMG, you’re such a warrior!
- Battle it, beat it.
- I hope you get better.
- You won your fight with cancer.
- They lost their battle with cancer.
Be wary of using ‘warrior’ language. Telling people they need to fight hard makes it seem like they have an effect over the outcome and if they ‘fail’ it’s their fault.
Let’s get this straight. No amount of PMA is going to cure cancer. If it did we’d all be laughing. Cancer’s gonna do what cancer’s gonna do. That fight ain’t a fair one. Nobody who dies from the disease has lost. Far from it.
- It’s gone now, you’re cured!
- But you’re cancer-free so you’re okay now right?
- So when will you finish treatment?
- What you mean it will NEVER go away?
- Oh my god, it’s back!
A cancer diagnosis doesn’t end when the cancer exits the building. Cancer is an experience that causes trauma to the core and if you’re fortunate enough to live beyond the disease the long term implications to their physical and mental health will be abundant. It takes a long time to process and adapt so please don’t assume because someone is cancer-free that they are in any way ‘over it’.
Similarly those who live with cancer long-term and will never be off treatment will not appreciate being written off or asked insensitive questions. Living well with cancer is a reality for many and has its own unique challenges. Assumptions make a fool out of you and can cause distress, upset and anger. When in doubt. Just bloody ask!
Check out more tips in our What Not To Say To Someone With Cancer vid with Stylist Mag.
HTF do I act around someone with cancer?
The same way you did before. Cancer doesn’t magically change someone’s need to hear the goss about your horrid boss or your devastatingly hot neighbour. They’re still the person you’ve always known and they want to be treated in the same way.
Having cancer doesn’t mean friends aren’t interested in your problems. It ain’t a competition.
Just pick the right moment for a good old moan. Be tactful. Use your loaf.
And for the love of god don’t get all weird about it.
Still invite them to all the things you did before cancer came knocking. And if they can’t make it shifting arrangements slightly so that they can is a little action that goes a long way.
Don’t infantilize. Don’t pity. Sure they may be vulnerable but they’re not a wee babby.
I want to buy my mate a gift. WTF should I get?
Chocolate and roses are great and all, but do a little research and try to think outside the box.
Anything that makes it easier or more comfortable for your mate to go about their day-to-day is gonna be a big hit.
If you’re not feeling flush, and your bud’s up for it, dedicating some time does wonders. Offer to pop round and whip up a meal while you shoot the sh*t. Good for the body and the soul.
FOR HELPING THEM SLEEP
- Scented candles – gentle lavenders, calming chamomiles and meditative valerians can work wonders
- Heated or weighted blanket – wrap ‘em up, keep ‘em warm and calm anxiety
- Cotton pyjamas – so long as they’re soft as a baby’s bum
- Luxe bedding – get them thread counts high and invest in gorge cushions and throws.
FOR RECOVERY + RELAXATION
- Super soft’n’cosy socks, leggings, tops, joggers and jumpers – garms that are perfect for post-treatment chilling. Anything made of bamboo is brilliant.
- Slippers – whether silly or sensible, a solid pair of slippers will be welcomed for wearing around the house or treatment suites
- Colouring books and pencils – a gentle activity that helps waste waiting around time
- A games console – a perfect distraction technique that can be picked up and played whenever they’re alone or with others.
- Streaming service subscriptions – to keep their wondering anxious mind occupied by ensuring they’re able to access the latest housewives franchise or binge watch succession.
FOR HELPING THEM FEEL GOOD
- Natural creams, moisturisers, serums and balms – nourishing products for hands, body and face that help soothe ravaged skin.
- Cancer-safe beauty treatments – booking a cancer-friendly massage, facial or nail appointment is such a treat and a great way to help them ground.
- Food delivery subscription – paying for a few gusto or hello fresh subscriptions for when they’re feeling too weak to be hitting the shops is a god send. But please do check on their current dietary requirements beforehand.
- Make up – for experimenting with inside and turning heads outside. Naturally-made or sensitive products are the best way to go. Little touches to help them to feel more like themselves when they feel anything but.
- Interesting flowers or easy to-look-after plants – who doesn’t love a bunch of natural beauties (like this divine bunch from Bloom & Wild) hanging round the house to look at?
- A statement bag or backpack – to pack their cancer treatment day kit into and remind them to keep calm and carry on
- GIRLvsCANCER merch – for looking outrageously good wherever they go, of course
- Books – the latest bestseller, a beautifully bound classic or an unknown gem will help get their mind off other things. Buy two copies and swap thoughts for double the fun.
- Jewellery – buying a little good luck charm that they can wear everyday as a reminder that are loved and cared for is pretty special.
Homewares – a nice vase to house all their flowers, pukka prints to evoke positivity or a laugh, a nice new mug for all the tea they’ll inevitably consume.
My mate keeps crying. WTF?
Between all the drugs, treatments and shitty news they’re having to deal with – on top of the madness of life in general – your mate’s emotions are probably going haywire.
It’s super normal. And if you don’t know how to deal with a sobbing pal at this point, where have you even been on a night out?
Please be patient. If they’re a cuddler give them a hug. And maybe hand them a tissue.
Nobody likes to see someone they love upset but trying to solve doesn’t help either. Allow the boo hoo’s to come and make sure they feel safe to be in their feels.
But you know what really works? Listening.
I want to take my mate out, but they’re saying no. WTF?
Displays of love and affection and attempts to try taking minds off things are appreciated. Trust.
And please don’t stop the invites coming. Things change on the daily.
But you gotta know they’re dealing with one of the biggest, crappest moments of their lives so far and there could be a whole bunch of unknowns going on.
They might be knackered from new meds. They might be in surgery tomorrow. They might be watching a Love Island marathon while chemo fog takes hold.
Please don’t take the rejection personally. Accept the no and don’t bombard them with questions you don’t need to know the answers to immediately. Cut ‘em some slack.
I’ve got scanxiety. WTF?
There’s no anxiety than scanxiety pals. It’s part and parcel of this cancer game but doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. No how many you’ve had before.
Firstly, when you book your scans, remember that this is you taking control of your health and you’ve just moved a step towards feeling better. Go you.
If you’re feeling nervous because you don’t know what to expect, ask your medical team and connect to others to find out some info. Reach out to a support group online who can tell you a little bit about what a scan for your particular type of cancer might involve.
Secondly, worrying about the outcome of a scan is not going to change the outcome of the scan. In fact if it isn’t the news you were hoping for it’s almost like going through the pain and upset twice over. Keep that in mind when the fear creeps in.
Whilst you’ll not be able to dial the anxiety all the way down booking a pre- or post-scan call or meet up with a pal IRL to get your feels out on the table. Or to talk crap about anything BUT cancer. Staying active and distracted can work wonders.
And BTW it’s fine to treat yo’self to that extra thing on the side. If treating yourself helps. Then treat yo’ self.
Turn up for your scan looking like a million bucks and that you mean business. Break out the fresh creps, stick on some fancy togs and put your face on (if that’s your thing). Being a gorgeous person who just so happens to have cancer is not a f****ing crime.
One more thing. Right before you go in, listen to some music that gets you feeling pumped. Walk into that scan like you’re Beyoncé at the Superbowl. If you can request your tunes of choice during an MRI, do it. Robyn S Show Me Love will make time fly, please believe.
My body is changing. WTF?
Between treatments, surgery, meds and every other life thing you’ve got going on, your body will begin to look different. This is 100% normal. But it can be a big shock to the system.
You could lose weight, gain it, and fluctuate. Hair might go or stay. Scars might stick around after surgery. Though these are surface changes they can have an incredibly deep impact on the inside, so it’s hugely important to talk to people about how they’re affecting you.
You’re not being vain. Period.
Just because you are dealing with a life-threatening illness does not mean you no longer care or want to care for your appearance. It’s wholly acceptable to grieve your new bod so that you can learn to love and accept it too.
It’s not just the external, the internal might start moving mad too. And are you surprised after all it’s been through? Do your best to be patient. Track symptoms and changes so that you can begin to work with not against them.
If you’re very active, understand that your routine may have to be altered to ensure you get enough rest and recovery time in.
Please don’t beat yourself up if you can’t get in your daily run or 10k steps. Any movement is more than enough.
Struggling with the physical changes can have a huge impact on your noggin’ so be sure to share how you’re feeling with your oncology team, your gp and if you can maybe pay privately for the support you need.
At the end of the day, it’s still you in there. We promise.
Things tasted kinda weird after my treatment. WTF?
Some treatments can cause your mouth to dry out and change your taste buds, making flavours seem less or too strong. To mitigate these (and soothe ulcers or blisters), ice cubes or ice lollies in the gob can help. Biotene is also your bae if you’re experiencing the fluffy tongue effects.
For other treatments that can leave you feeling nauseous or with a bad taste in your mouth, try some gentle mouthwash, sucking on hard-boiled sweets (also good for a sugar boost) or drinking herbal teas. Peppermint and ginger are a great place to start.
I’m going through early menopause. WTF?
This is a tough one. Truly. There’s a clue in the title – pause. Do it often. Allow yourself time to comprehend and to catch up.
Seek professional support from integrative specialists in cancer and try to keep it as natural as possible to manage side effects and symptoms.
Lean on friends, family and experts when experiencing mental health dips and don’t feel bad for taking it easy. The struggle is real.
FOR GENERAL HEALTH
- Exercise daily. Activity is essential to keep your head, body and heart working well.
- Stay strong with weight bearing or bone strengthening exercises.
- Stay flexible with pilates or yoga.
- Eat healthily
- Revisit your food to ensure you’re getting enough proteins
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol as they can fire up flushes.
- Carry easy access snacks for hunger, or to manage fluctuating sugar levels.
- Keep your digestive system functioning with probiotics and gut health improving products
- Check in with a nutritionist or dietician who can tailor a plan that fits with your cancer treatment.
FOR NIGHT SWEATS + HOT FLUSHES
- Get a weighted blanket with bamboo cover
- Keep a fan by the bed and carry one with you at all times.
- Carry a travel towel or a flannel will do.
- Light, cotton nightwear (with a spare change nearby).
- Cooling, soothing teas e.g. chamomile, peppermint and Pukka’s Love tea
- Acupuncture treatments can work wonders.
- Lightweight, natural bedding.
- Order yourself a chillmax pillow.
- If you wear mascara, waterproof ones are your new bezza.
FOR LOW MOOD
- Make sure you’re getting enough vit d and b12.
- Sleep deprivation will knock you for six. Make sure you’re able to get a full 40 winks. Even if that means taking naps.
- Talk to your medical teams about psychological support and / or anti-depressants – both natural and prescribed.
- Exercise is an instant mood booster.
WTF goes in a treatment day kit
Grab yourself a bag and get packing. Keep this thing as close as your bezzie and as well-stocked as a nanna’s biscuit tin.
- Get Comfy – Loungewear, trackie bottoms and a hoodie, pyjamas, fluffy socks and slippers. Even a little cushion.
- Distraction Techniques – Book / Kindle, Magazines, iPad / Laptop, Games console, crosswords. Whatever keeps your mind occupied.
- Stay Connected – for the love of God do not forget your charger cable, plug and if you can a power pack.
- Feel Good – Hand cream, face mist, lip balm and lotion. And your fave lippie if that’s your thing.
- Catch 40 – Lavender or magnesium spray and roll on’s. Chuck in an eye mask if you fancy hitting snooze.
- Organised AF – pen and notepad, your treatment booklet / notes and your filofax if you’re old school.
Whet Your Whistle – refillable water bottle, sugary drink, snacks of all kinds: fruit, chocolate, crisps, pastries, sweets, or maybe your fave sandwich.