Updated: Sep 29
When you hear a child has been diagnosed with cancer, there are a lot of questions and feelings that come up. As a friend or relative of that child, you want to know all the details, what to say and how you can help. While there are many things a family may want to talk about, here is a list of things that are left better unsaid.
• Don’t compare a friend, family member or a pet’s cancer story to ours.
You have the best intentions, but please don’t compare your pet’s cancer to our child’s cancer. As much as we love pets, they are not human. Also, your elderly grandma is the sweetest in the world but we do not want to hear you talk about someone who has lived a long life. Our child is just starting a life, it's not fair so please don’t bring it up. However, you can ask if we want to talk or connect with someone who has been through the process.
• Don’t offer to help if you don’t want to do the mundane stuff.
First, I want to point out the worst phrase in a cancer family world is, “Tell me how I can help.” We will probably never take you up on that, BUT there is a long list of things that could be done. Sometimes we need help getting groceries or doing a load of laundry. Family life isn’t glamorous - we know. But it’s that mundane stuff that we really need help with. Help with after school activities with our other kids. Answer my call at 3am. Listen to my anxiety-ridden rant. Hug us. Having support at the doctor’s office is nice, but having clean underwear and snacks readily available is as equally important. Just. Show. Up.
• Don’t suggest that the kid’s lifestyle is to blame - we blame ourselves enough. Believe it or not, our minds are going 24/7 and we often ask ourselves: where it came from, should we have known sooner, and is this a family thing. The fact of the matter is: no one knows. Not you, not us, and nor even the professionals. We have guilt, lots of it, so please do not add to that burden.
• Don’t provide information about treatments you heard or read about on the internet, including all holistic miracle pathways.
Yes, your heart is there. But, our doctors have been fighting this their entire career and they will walk us through our options. There’s a reason it’s their job. We trust our medical providers -- with our life -- and while there is always hope, putting time and effort into unknown treatments is just more information than our brains can handle right now.
• Don’t say “stay positive” or “stay strong.”
Why? Because no one stays positive all the time and yes, we know, we are stronger than you can imagine. Sometimes the latest catch-phrases can seem like a good thing to say, but in reality, it’s already happening. Not to mention, every family will break down at some points. Rather than saying “stay strong” or “stay positive” try, “this sucks,” because it does suck. The best thing you can do is understand our feelings fluctuate on a daily, even hourly, basis. Rather, if you mean it, say “I’m here for you no matter what happens.”
• Don’t ask about what the future holds.
Most of the time, we’re winging it. If we volunteer this information, it’s o.k. to talk further. Otherwise, it’s better to stifle your curiosity.
• Don’t share with us how overwhelmed you feel or avoid us.
We know you feel overwhelmed by our situation. You have less answers than we do. Sometimes friends or family who don’t know what to do or say end up not doing or saying anything. Please don’t avoid us and don’t abandon us, because we want to know you care. It is better to say, “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.”
• Don’t tell us one cancer is better than another cancer.
Would you feel lucky being diagnosed with any type of cancer? Nope, us either. Cancer SUCKS no matter which one you end up with. The reality is each cancer is unpredictable and therefore can mutate, change and unfortunately come back. Cancer is CANCER, period.
• Don’t try to spin a negative into a positive.
Our kids don’t like to be bald (especially girls). They don’t care about losing weight. We know they look ghostly. They already feel insecure. Don’t bring it up.
This blog post has been brought to you by My Friend Linkin (MFL). MFL is a non-profit where kids write books about kids with cancer. We exist to inspire and educate children and adults about childhood cancer.