What do you do if a close friend or family members confides to you, “I have cancer?” The news will no doubt knock your world off-kilter — as it did to your loved one’s world, but how can you find solid ground and be the rock of support through what’s to come? In his book, Loving, Supporting, and Caring for the Cancer Patient: A Guide to Caring, Compassion, and Courage, Stan Goldberg, a recognized expert in the area of cancer support, offers 266 suggestions that “go beyond compassionate intent to helpful behaviors.”
Goldberg’s suggestions come from what his clients and patients have told him, and from firsthand knowledge of what words and actions make a difference when someone is living with a cancer diagnosis. His own experience with prostate cancer — from his initial solution-oriented attitude, to learning how to acknowledge his limitations — add weight to his description of what the cancer patient experiences. He admits that it wasn’t easy for him to ask for or accept help from others, and explains that he didn’t want loved ones to play the role of cheerleader, but instead to ground their comments in realism.
Goldberg details the unsettling affects that a life-threatening disease can have, and how cancer-free people may find it hard to understand. Seemingly small deviations, such as not being able to fit into a favorite outfit, or having to walk along a less strenuous path, can set off inconsolable grief.
As someone adjusts to a cancer diagnosis, the best way to show support, says Goldberg, is by doing, not just saying — providing help with housework, meals, transportation, and helping to reduce the disorganization of a life pushed off its trajectory. He describes how to support someone’s transition from independence to dependence, and offers advice on how to listen compassionately without judging. Also, he points out, what your loved one refused help with earlier may now be welcome, so it’s worth asking again.
If treatment isn’t working and the cancer advances, Goldberg explains how it’s important to wait for your loved one to initiate discussions about a life-altering condition or impending death, and he offers suggestions for talking to a loved one once the subject is raised.
Goldberg’s valuable book reminds us that the best way to show compassion to our loved ones facing cancer is to show up, to speak from the heart, and to refrain from passing judgment. Essentially, it’s what each of us would want from our loved ones if the tables were turned.
Learn more at stangoldbergwriter.com.