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Advice for the Cancer Advice-Givers
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Advice for the Cancer Advice-Givers

As we survive cancer, people often turn to us for advice. Listening mindfully as we also share personal tips can help others in their cancer journeys. The list of tips can only grow from survivor to survivor. What do you have to share?
PUBLISHED June 27, 2018
Felicia Mitchell is a poet and writer who makes her home in southwestern Virginia, where she teaches at Emory & Henry College. She was diagnosed with Stage 2b HER2-positive breast cancer in 2010. Website:

The announcement of a cancer diagnosis startles me, especially when a young person shares the news. Cancer, of course, does not know a stranger. Some are diagnosed as infants. Other times, a diagnosis comes as a young adult is about to spread his or her wings.

With revelations of cancer, there is an opportunity to listen and share tips for navigating cancer. I never feel that I have quite the right words when this happens. Each time, I try harder, remembering how I floundered when my brother was diagnosed with cancer at 19.

Practice does not make perfect. I still want to cry just as much I want to appear strong and wise when it is time for me to listen to somebody share devastating news.

When one young woman told that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, this is the first thing I wrote: "I will help you and also give you scarves. It was not always easy." Recently, another young person told me about a cancer diagnosis of the same type of cancer my brother had. My heart was broken all over again as I sought comforting words.

Cancer is not easy, and yet it is manageable, too, in many unique ways. Advice from survivors is one way. While no one list is perfect, and collective wisdom is always good, here are a few of the tips I tend to repeat:

  • Cancer is not always easy. Admit that to yourself, if not to anybody else, and plan accordingly to deal with the emotional and physical stress of both disease and treatment.
  • Do your research by reading and talking to your doctors. Understand what is going on with your body during both the disease and the treatment.
  • Do what is right for you in your chemo chair. Some people need somebody to hold their hands. Others prefer to be alone. It is OK to be alone if that makes it easier for you.
  • Eat what tastes right to you when you feel queasy, not what others tell you will taste good.
  • Learn your rights in the workplace. Ask for appropriate accommodations.
  • Ignore the naysayers who want to tell you why you got cancer and what supplements will cure you without medical intervention. Ignore any other advice that does not appear to have your best interests at heart – even if naysayers include family or close friends.
  • Find kindred spirits who have dealt with similarly daunting challenges. They will be your guardian angels.
  • Never say never. Even if a diagnosis is "terminal," it is OK to live your life, as best you can, as if it will last a long, long time.
  • Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

What advice do you find yourself sharing time after time? Please add to this list.

Advice, of course, can only go so far. Listening mindfully to others, I have learned, can be the best gift of all when somebody with cancer looks you straight in the eyes.

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