What NOT to say to cancer patients

Written by  Facing Cancer Together
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Lynn Eib works as a patient advocate in Hanover, PA offering emotional and spiritual support to cancer patients and their caregivers. She knows a thing or two about what cancer patients are going through. That’s because she is a cancer survivor herself.

lynn-eib-on-what-not-to-say-webLynn faced a colon cancer diagnosis as a young mother of three and endured a tough treatment of chemotherapy. But, now she’s sharing the wisdom she's learned from her own journey to help others and provide them with the emotional care they need.

Lynn says that many times people want to offer patients support, but don’t know how. She says, “I’ve toyed with writing, the idea of writing a book: Really Stupid Things Not to Say to Cancer Patients and Their Family. People say things like, ‘Oh, you look so good,’ and I know they mean well, but you know, you want to say, like, ‘Well, how did you want me to look?’ Or, ‘How did you think I was going to look?’”

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She adds that the worst thing someone can do is to start telling you a story about someone they know who had cancer that didn’t make it. “Oh, my grandma, she had that kind of cancer, oh, she didn’t last six months.” Lynn suggests, “When someone starts a story about a relative or a friend with cancer, like your kind, look them straight in the eye and say, ‘Does this story have a happy ending?’ And if they say, ‘No,’ say, ‘Thank you. I don’t want to hear it right now.’”

“When I start to tell a story to someone, about someone I know with their kind of cancer, they know it’s a story with a happy ending. Either the person’s cured or the person’s in remission or the person’s doing better than anyone thought or whatever. I only tell those kinds of stories to people. Because you need to hear a hopeful story, not a sad story.”

More words of wisdom from Lynn: “I don’t assume I know how you feel. Just because I’ve had cancer doesn’t mean I know exactly how you feel.” And as soon as I say that, they appreciate hearing that.

Click here to learn more about Lynn, her personal story about facing cancer, her role as a patient advocate, and the support groups she leads.

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