Advice for the Cancer Advice-Givers

Felicia Mitchell

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:

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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