Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
For those facing cancer, encouraging words can often be good medicine.
“You’ve got this,” my brother said, as I shared concerns over an upcoming visit with the oncologist. His vote of confidence gave me a much-needed infusion of courage. He had no idea how much I needed to hear those words and how perfect his timing in sharing them had been.
For those of us who continually deal with bloodwork, testing and scans for a possible recurrence of cancer, words of encouragement mean so much. It’s not easy to face those periodic appointments.
Every month, when I look at my calendar, I see appointments. The most important ones, visits related to my health, are circled in red. When I see them, I begin to get nervous. No matter how hard I try, there’s always that little “what if” demon circling overhead. Try as I might, feelings of fear and dread creep in. Often, I find it necessary to give myself permission to be afraid. As I tiptoe quietly through trepidatious thoughts, I make myself realize those feelings aren’t truth. That’s when I do my best to shake off those feelings and move forward, but sometimes it’s difficult to do on my own.
Hearing a friend or family member say, “I’m here for you,” or “You don’t know what the future holds,” gives me a reality check. The truth is, I don’t know what the future might hold. While I might face a recurrence at some point, it’s important not to get hung up on the unknown.
Words have a great deal of power! It doesn’t matter if they come in the form of a phone call, a text, a letter or a card, as long as they come. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important for those fighting cancer to have some form of support system. When there are no close family or friends available to offer up words of hope, there’s another resource that many may not know about.
Community support is a vital resource. Many hospitals have found the value in offering cancer support groups. Social media is another venue for community support.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had no family living close by. During that time, I felt very alone so I turned to social media in hopes of finding a breast cancer support group. It wasn’t difficult to find one and then many. In each of the groups, even though the women were complete strangers, I never faced a day without constant messages of love and support. I was amazed that many of those offering their words of encouragement to me were also fighting their own health battles.
So, what can you say to someone dealing with a severe health issue, especially when you aren’t sure what to say? One of the best things to say is “You’ve got my support,” or “Let me know how I can help.” You might also want to say something like “I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers,” or “It’s OK to be afraid.” Whatever you choose to say, keep in mind the person on the receiving end needs a firm vote of confidence. They don’t need to hear about your fears or concerns for them.
Periodic checkups for the cancer patient naturally bring concern; however, I feel like nine times out of ten, the person needing encouragement will never ask for it.
One of the best pieces of advice I can share, as a four-year survivor of breast cancer, is take time to listen. As your friend or family member shares about upcoming visits to the oncologist or mentions any type of testing that may be scheduled, pay attention to what he or she may not be saying. Listen for those little pauses that might signal an underlying fear. Those are cues to offer up a kind word of encouragement.
When you can’t find the right words to say, perhaps an “I love you” or an “I understand” would suffice.
The main thing is to express the words from your heart. Words offered with a serving of love help equip others to face their fight with a little more courage and a little more hope.