What Not to Say to a Sick Friend

What Not to Say to a Sick Friend

Your friend is sick? What to say can be truly stressful. You worry about whether acknowledging and bringing up their illness will remind them that they are sick or upset them. When people are sick, they don't forget. But saying something that is insensitive or invalidating can make it worse. Read on for some simple suggestions on what not to say to a sick loved one.

How to Really Help a Sick Friend

How to Really Help a Sick Friend

Having a sick friend is scary. The possibility of losing them can paralyze.  Many want to offer help and support, but struggle with how to do it in a meaningful and non-imposing manner. Gluck offers thoughtful ways to offer support to an friend or loved one with a serious illness.What to do—and what not to do—when someone you love gets a serious diagnosis

What Can I Do to Help? 5 Things You Can Do for Someone With Cancer

I was quoted regarding how to help and offer support to a loved one with a cancer diagnosis.

2 0 1 2Aug13

What Can I Do to Help? 5 Things You Can Do for Someone With Cancer

Posted by Staff

When it comes to a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to know the right things to do for them. Everyone has different preferences and ways of dealing with hard times, but there is always something you can do! Here are the best tips and pieces of advice from those who should know best!

1. Send letters, care packages or gift cards that offer a little extra support and help.

My coworkers went together and got me a very generous Visa Giftcard that we could use anywhere to help offset some of our gas, medication and other miscellaneous costs. This was incredibly nice and generous of them and really came in handy at a time when we needed some relief. -- Laura Ybarra, currently undergoing chemo for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Choose gifts that are personal and useful that they will appreciate. My favorites are an e-reader that can be downloaded with books by that person's favorite author or an iPod shuffle that can be loaded with their favorite music. These are great welcome distractions during the long hours of chemo or waiting in a doctor's office. -- Lisa Lurie, cancer survivor and co-founder of Cancer Be Glammed.

Visits may be too much for someone who is severely ill or weak from treatment. If that's the case, get some greeting cards and mail one each day to the patient. Yes, snail mail -- it brightens someone's spirits to know they're thought of. Include jokes, affirmations, inspirational sayings and cartoons. -- Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author.

2. Think of the other family members and caregivers. They need support, too!

If the person has children, schedule a few outings or daytrips with them. The parent can rest and recover at home, knowing that the kids are safe and having fun. -- Stacey Vitiello, breast cancer physician and radiologist.

Reach out to the spouse, parent or significant other to ask them what you can do to help. They will know best. Offer to bring a meal, do grocery shopping or any other errand with which they may need assistance. -- Helen Szablya, Peritoneal Carcinomatosis survivor.

If you’re not the main caretaker, ask that person how they’re doing. Offer them support. Give them a break. Bring over a dvd movie, a piece of fruit, some cookies—something for the caretaker alone, or that they can share. Give the caretaker has a few hours of “me time” while you stay with the patient. -- Claudia Mulcahy, breast cancer surivivor.

3. Keep things as normal as possible by being yourself and doing activities together!

I needed to live everyday as though my cancer was not there. Even if it is just doing one activity that the person loves and can handle. Let them decide to a degree to what they can handle as well.-- Laura Ann Tull, breast cancer survivor.

Be yourself and be present. Don’t shy away and disappear and don’t try to be another person. They want the person you were BEFORE the cancer diagnosis. -- Susan Bratton, Chief Executive Officer of Meals To Heal.

Encourage them to get out of their home. Come over and take a walk with them, drive them around the block or simply sit outside with them. -- Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

4. Ask, don’t assume.

Instead of assuming what they need, simply ask. Many friends and family of patients think that they should already know what they need, and what they should be doing for them. They will appreciate your straightforwardness. -- Molly Tyler, Director of e+CancerHome.

Ask if the patient wants to get phone calls, and then call within the acceptable hours to give news, or to listen, but don't make the patient do the talking unless he or she wants to. -- Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author.

5. Suggest support programs and websites.

Encourage the cancer patient or their support team to create a website so they can post the progress and not receive a million calls each day. -- Helen Szablya, Peritoneal Carcinomatosis survivor.

When someone is going through treatment for an illness, it’s hard for them to answer the phone and stay in touch with all the people who want to talk to them. Caring Bridge is a great service that they can use to keep everyone informed about how they are and in addition people can send them good wishes. -- Lisa Lurie, cancer survivor, co-founder of Cancer Be Glammed.

Encourage your friend or family member to join a cancer support group, this form of social support can extend their life. -- Nina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist.

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Why a cancer diagnosis can turn a loved one into a fair-weather friend

This article discusses the unexpected reactions of loved ones to a cancer diagnosis.  I share insights into why people might not react as expected.
2 0 1 2Aug20

Why a Cancer Diagnosis Can Turn a Loved One into a Fair-Weather Friend

Posted by Staff

Cancer and PsychologyIn difficult times, people tend to lean on their family and friends for support, care, and love. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is certainly a time when the support of loved ones is especially important. However, what if, instead of support, a patient received a narcissistic attitude from a loved one? Instead of care, a loved one retreated from the patient’s life? How should someone in a situation like this react to their loved one’s attention-seeking and negative attitudes and what explains the behavior?

Stress, Sickness and Relationships

“I have very little contact with [my mother],” says Rebecca Cagel, whose cancer diagnosis caused an extremely negative attitude from her mother and, ultimately, the end of their relationship. “Since my diagnosis my mother continuously insults me and tells me I am going to be a "bag lady" because I am unable to work a forty hour week.”

Extreme negativity, especially from parents, can be hardest to deal with and can only be partially explained by stress.

“When stress levels are lower, people can cover up their fears, think more rationally,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., Physical Therapist, Psychiatrist, and author of ‘A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness’. “But when the imminent death of a loved one is thrown at them, calling to mind their own mortality and helplessness regarding death, stress levels can skyrocket.”

According to Lombardo, extreme stress can lead to feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety, all of which can manifest into negative behaviors and feelings towards the patient. In the case of Rebecca Cagel, her mother’s fear for her daughter’s life may have led to this negative behavior. This negativity is not healthy for a cancer patient, however, and can be cause for the severing of the relationship.

“It is sad but I have to distance myself from her because it would be too frustrating and depressing to be around her,” says Cagel. “I have to take care of myself and get her negativity out of my life.”

Can a Relationship be Salvaged?

There is a way, however, to potentially save a relationship that has been hurt by extreme negativity-- empathy might be the key.

“You might say something like, I know my cancer is tough on all of us, and it is not uncommon to feel scared, sad or even angry about it,” says Lombardo. “When you empathize, then the person will be more likely to be able to hear the rest of what you have to say.”

Expressing your concerns in an understanding, non-threatening way will help alleviate tension and could play a big part in maintaining relationships through tragedy.

Negativity By Any Other Name

Negativity can appear in a less obvious way than outright insult and rude commentary. Some people begin to seek attention or behave selfishly in response to a loved one’s diagnosis. In these instances, ego is most likely to blame.

“Those who utilize narcissistic traits...are usually those with poor egos,” says John Lops, an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist from Brooklyn, NY. “Events such as tragedies can be a platform to display how important they can be, as well as a wonderful opportunity to fulfill their narcissistic urges.”

Many times these people will go over the top in their attempts to support and care for the patient, defining their doing as how special they are and showing others how appreciative they should be of him or her. But according to Lops, a poor ego is injured further when the acknowledgment of these “nice gestures” from other family and friends moves to the past. Then these narcissistic traits reveal themselves as selfish and attention-seeking.

Carla Ulbrich, who suffered from a severe and chronic, but not terminal, illness was faced with these behaviors when a close relative made a comment about needing to get sick in order to get any attention from the family. Ulbrich remembers her next thought: “You can think that, and I suppose you can even whisper it to somebody, but do you really have to shout it to the person who is already suffering kidney failure?”

There is a way to deal with this type of behavior while still keeping this person’s fragile ego in mind.

“Due to the fragility of folks who displays these behaviors, confronting, for the most part, will not be helpful,” says Lops. “I would probably thank them and make them aware to what extent I appreciate their efforts.”

It is important for a patient to, in some cases, completely remove this person and their negative behavior for some time, and Lops suggests expressing appreciation, but also telling him or her that they need not take further responsibility of aiding in getting through whatever tragedy occurred.

Radical Reactions

Other radical behavior, such as denial or withdrawal, can also be caused by stress. Loved ones may gradually withdraw from a recently diagnosed friend out of discomfort or fear. Avoidance is the only way they can deal with such serious news.

“They can't let in or accept that their loved one is sick or dying. Instead they focus on themselves and deny that extreme changes such as a difficult treatment or even death is in their friend and family's future,” says Nerina Garcia-Arcement, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Clinical Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine.

Avoiding the patient and denial of the situation can increase as the patient’s health deteriorates. Walter Meyers of San Diego, CA remembers how a friendship ended before a terminal diagnosis took a close friend’s life.

“Suzy, Scott and I all...worked together for years. When Suzy was diagnosed with cancer, I tried to be there for her, visiting her often in the hospital, even donating blood platelets for an [experimental treatment],” recalls Meyers. “As Suzy got sicker, Scott drifted further away...and when things got to the point that it was apparent nothing more could be done, Suzy called Scott to tell him goodbye. He said: “You think you’ve got problems? I went bowling last night and couldn’t break 100!”

Scott never made it to see Suzy and did not attend the memorial service. Meyers says he has not spoken to him since.

In all cases and at all levels of severity, negative behavior and attitudes in light of a loved one’s tragedy is serious and personal. However, it is important for both the patient and his or her loved ones to remember that a severe illness can affect everyone involved, both negatively and positively. By remembering this, it is easier to react empathetically and rationally in the face of such a life-changing event.

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