Having a parent with cancer can affect you in a way you never thought possible. When my Mom was diagnosed, it turned my world upside down. It’s something you hear about and empathize with, but you never imagine it would happen to you. I have friends who have lost their parents to cancer and I’m truthfully ashamed at my lack of involvement in their lives during that time. I know it is something you will never understand until you experience it yourself (I pray you never will), but hopefully this article can help you help your friend.
For those who are there, we know you’re just trying to help…really, we do! However, there are things that you just SHOULD. NOT. SAY. It’s a very vulnerable time in our lives where we basically have to give up our parents’ future to the oncologists and pray for a miracle.
Here’s what NOT to say:
1. “It could be worse…”
Really? You don’t think we know that? It could also be better! Our parent could have a clean bill of health, but they don’t… and that SUCKS. Believe me, I see stories all the time about children diagnosed with cancer and I get sick to my stomach. I feel blessed that my Mom is old enough to understand what’s going on…but when you tell me it could be worse, it makes it seem like my sadness isn’t viable.
2. “I’m here if you need me.”
This is only a bad thing to say if you don’t actually mean it. How many times have you texted someone saying, “Hey, I need you…!”? Needing help or a shoulder to cry on is not something we like to admit. If you’re my close friend, just assume that I will ALWAYS need you, even if I don’t ask. Distract me! Let’s go for drinks, to the movies a walk around the freakin’ park! Don’t say it…show it! The difference between the amount of people that have said they are there for me and the amount of people that are ACTUALLY there for me is hurtful.
3. “My Mom’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s uncle has that cancer and he beat it (or worse, didn’t make it)! ”
I am ELATED that your Mom’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s uncle survived! Hearing anyone beat cancer is AWESOME. We understand you’re trying to help us stay positive, but every situation is different. Every cancer is different. Most treatment plans/chemo regimens are different. What worked for him might not work for my mom, and vice-versa!
4. “You’re so strong!”
We don’t have a choice and most of us really don’t think we are strong. We just have to carry on with our day-to-day lives as best as we can. Hearing how “strong” I am actually makes me feel guilty because I know I’m crushed on the inside. It makes me feel like I can never show sadness or anger because then I will no longer be perceived as strong.
5. “Keep me updated!”
Again, I know you’re just trying to help! Maybe you don’t want to bother me…but the truth is, going out of your way to keep YOURSELF updated means more than you know. Between close family, extended relatives, my friends, my parents’ friends, etc., it’s hard to keep everyone in the loop all the time. I’ve never texted anyone out of the blue with “Hey! Mom’s been crying and hugging the toilet all day! I just wanted to let you know!” A lot of the times I feel like I’m bothering people when I talk about her sickness. It makes people uncomfortable, but we need to talk about it more than you could imagine.
6. “It will all be over soon! ”
if WHEN my Mom beats cancer, it will unfortunately never be over. Every cough, every ache and pain, every dizzy spell, will forever make me assume the cancer is back. This will forever change our lives. This will forever cause us to live in fear.
7. “How’s your Mom?”
I know I JUST told you to try your best to keep yourself updated, so you might think I’m crazy…but hear me out! If you’re going to ask us, tell us you want the honest truth. I know this seems tedious, but if you really want to know how she feels, do your best to make sure we’re open with you. When my boss casually strolls past my desk on her way to the bathroom and asks how my mom is, she’s probably asking as a formality. Not saying she doesn’t actually care, but I’m sure she’s looking for “Oh thanks for asking! She’s hanging in there!” rather than “Well, she’s pretty miserable actually. She’s slept for the better half of the last two weeks, cries at EVERYTHING and is constantly taking her frustrations out on everyone around her…but she’s fine!”
8. “Did your mom ever have that one test done yet?”
If I’ve told you 2 months ago about a specific scan, test, chemo, etc… please try your best to remember. Make a freakin’ calendar reminder to ask me! I know this is asking a lot, but if you’re my close friend…it will mean the world to me. When my Mom has something big coming up, it is the only thing on my mind for weeks. When you ask about something weeks or even MONTHS later, I can’t help but feel a little angry. It’s all I’ve been thinking about and it just slips your mind?! Her cancer is on my mind every single second of every single day, no exaggeration. I don’t expect you to remember everything, but forgetting about the important stuff makes me feel like you genuinely don’t care.
I have a confession to make. My mom’s cancer has made me bitter. It has made me angry. It’s too often that I see these posts on social media, “Horrible day. Have the flu…please pray I get better before the weekend!” I can’t help but cringe. You’re concerned about a flu (which is temporary, by the way) because you want to go out and party this weekend?! My mom has CANCER, you moron!
I know, I know—I seem like a horrible person. I’ve never told anyone this because I hate myself for it. Dealing with cancer truthfully desensitizes you to the world around you. I’m trying my best to snap back to reality and stop comparing every situation to this horrible disease. Everyone has their problems and they are not inferior to mine.
The best thing you can do for someone whose parent has cancer is to be there!