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Many people find it difficult to talk to a person who has cancer. This section provides information about how to talk, help and support them.
When you first learn that someone close to you has cancer, you may have many thoughts such as, ‘What if I say the wrong thing?’, ‘How do I talk to her?’ and ‘I don’t want to hurt him.
Difficult or sad events happen to all of us at some point in our lives. Some of us have to deal with these events more often than others. For most people, it helps to know that their family and friends are there to support them when life is difficult.
Just hearing the word cancer can be frightening. Although many people can be cured and the chances of being cured are getting better all the time, being told that someone you care about has cancer is still often a big shock.
You may want to help but you don’t know how. You may not know what to say or what you can do to help. Many people feel like this, even if they’re used to dealing with difficult issues in their work lives or in other circumstances. It’s very different when it’s a personal situation.
You may feel stuck and helpless, even frozen, when a relative or friend has some bad news. You may think that there are things you should say or do that will automatically make things easier for the person with cancer - if only you knew what they were.
But the most important thing to realise is that there is no magic formula, phrase or approach that is the ’right’ thing to say or do in all circumstances and for all situations. There isn’t a right set of words or attitudes that will always help. It’s not a skill that everyone else but you has. If you want to help someone who’s facing a difficult time, just wanting to help and offering to be there for that person is what matters most.
Most of us feel that we don’t know what to say. But the important thing is not what we say - it’s that we’re there and that we listen. When you understand the few simple rules of good listening, you’ll be a great help and support. Listening can help build a relationship between you both that allows you to be even more supportive and to know what your relative or friend needs.
How to be a good listener| begins with understanding why listening and talking are so valuable.
Content last reviewed: 1 July 2011
Next planned review: 2013
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
Bill's wife Betty had cancer. Hear his story and find out how we can help you if someone you love has cancer.
Almost a million people in England care for a friend or family member with cancer. But they're not getting the support they need. Help us change that.
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© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
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