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What to Do When a Loved One Has Cancer

What to Do When a Loved One Has Cancer

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By    |   Monday, 17 October 2016 02:05 PM

Each year, about 12.7 million people in the U.S. learn they have cancer, so the probability this could happen to one of your loved ones or dear friends is – unfortunately– quite likely.

But too often people when people are faced with this situation, they simply are at a loss and don't know what to say or do, a top expert says.

“Twenty years ago, a friend called me and told me ‘I have advanced cancer,' and I didn’t really know what to say, so I just said, ‘I’m sorry.’ But now I know that there are much better ways to help,” Dr. Stan Goldberg tells Newsmax Health.

In his new book, “Loving, Supporting and Caring for the Cancer Patient,” Goldberg lists many of the ways that loved ones and friends can help those dealing with cancer.

Goldberg, a professor emeritus at San Francisco State University, was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer 13 years ago. He has also worked as a hospice volunteer and writes often on end-of-life issues.

“Working with hospice patients for eight years, and then also living with cancer myself, made me realize that I had been given a gift because I can see things from both sides,” he says.

There are a lot of misconceptions that people have about cancer, and this can get in the way, making them feel tongue-tied or helpless, instead of being able to offer meaningful help, says Goldberg.

“For example, if someone tells you they have cancer and you say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ there’s nothing wrong with that. But you need to follow it up with an offer to help in some way, like take them grocery shopping, or help with something else they may now find too difficult to do,” says Goldberg.

Also too often people inadvertently negate the cancer patient’s experience. “For example, people often say, ‘Oh, don’t worry – you’re the same person as you were before you had cancer,' but this simply isn’t true,” says Goldberg.

“Cancer is often the start of a process that will result in many losses, and some of these eat away at a person’s sense of identity.”

“For example, before my diagnosis, one of my greatest passions was going out into the wilderness for fly fishing but now I can’t. A friend offered to take me to one of those fishing parks, where you just stick in your pole and the fish virtually climb up it. Previously, I would have laughed at such a notion, but now I found it endearing, because it showed me my friend was acknowledging me,” he says.

People also too often have a knee-jerk reaction to offer the cancer patient unsolicited advice, he says.

“I can’t tell you how many times people said to me something like, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be fine, my uncle had prostate cancer.’ But it’s very dangerous to generalize because every cancer is different, and, by doing so, you’re also ignoring how unique each personal cases is,” says Goldberg.

People who don’t have cancer also tend to underestimate how life-changing the pain experienced by the patient can be, or how to help, says Goldberg.

“People sitting with a cancer patient who is in pain may not know what to do, but they don’t realize that by simply taking the person’s hand and holding it, they are helping, and they are saying that they will be there for them, no matter what happens,” says Goldberg.

And the tendency to call cancer patients “survivors” or say they are “battling cancer?” Well, Goldberg has a beef with that.

“I know that a lot of people pride themselves on the notion that they are ‘battling cancer’ or that they are ‘survivors.’ The problem I have is that it creates a false scenario,” says Goldberg.

“The notion of a ‘battle’ is fine when you’re winning but what do you say when it comes back – that I didn’t fight hard enough? I know people that have died of cancer feeling guilty about this.”

As for the popular term "cancer survivor," says Goldberg: “This implies that the cancer is gone. I’ve met very few people that believe, even if their cancer is in remission, that there aren’t a few cells around. So I feel most comfortable when people congratulate me that I’m coping and that is enough,” he says.


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Cancer strikes millions of Americans every year. So what's the best thing to do if a friend or family member is told 'You have cancer'? A top expert provides valuable information on how to help when this happens to someone you love.
Cancer, diagnosis, book, tips
Monday, 17 October 2016 02:05 PM
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