FYI Daily

How To Talk to Someone With Cancer

Last updated: Dec 13, 2011

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The holidays bring families together -- the sick and the well. Knowing what to say to someone with a tough disease in the season of good cheer can be challenging for some people. If you're caring for someone with cancer, or if another loved one in your circle has cancer, these tips from Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams, who has stage 4 melanoma, come just in the Old St. Nick of time.

In fact, they apply to many situations caregivers deal with:

Rule #1: "This is a bad time to be emotionally needy." It's not about your baggage, so leave it in your closet.

Rule #2: "It's a very bad time to disappear." In order to communicate, you first need to be there. Williams writes, "You say you're not good with hospitals, or you're sensitive because of your tragic family history, or this is really inconvenient because you're going through your own problems right now? Yeah." She points out that a text, a call, an I'm-thinking-of-you message doesn't take much effort but means a lot.

Rule #5: "Don't tell them how to fix this."

Rule #6: "Don't be hasty with the best-case scenarios." Avoid sweeping pronouncements of optimism. Avoid dismissing a bad prognosis. And, she points out, many people with cancer dislike the word "battle" -- as in "We" will "battle" this.

All ten rules are worth a quick pre-holiday scan -- or better yet, worth forwarding to the friends and relatives who may soon be at your door or the same party. What to say -- like what not to say to someone with cancer -- isn't rocket science. It's common sense mixed with a compassionate heart. And that's a true gift.