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What to say to a cancer patient

24 Jul

Recently I knew of two friends’ dear ones who are diagnosed with cancer. It is always sad, especially when I know young people who have to deal with cancer whilst they are in the prime of their lives.

One of the things I realised with my own experience is that many young people do not know how to respond when their friends are diagnosed with cancer. Simply because cancer is a faraway concept when you’re in your thirties and living the life, pursuing your career and enjoying the life after the twenties.

So what can you say if someone you know has cancer? Here is what I think is helpful.

1) Be calm.

Remember that your friend is probably under a lot of stress and overwhelmed by the diagnosis. It won’t help if you burst into tears and sob. He or she will be obliged to deal with your feelings and that causes more stress. Instead, be calm and show your friend that you are able to handle this piece of news, even if you are falling apart inside.

2) Listen.

Hearing what your friend has to say about his/her experience may trigger your own fears about mortality. It may be very tempting to speak out about your fears – what if you can have cancer too? – but at this moment, it is not about you. Your friend has cancer and does not need to hear about your nagging fear about a lump you had for the last four years. Be a faithful friend and listen to what he/she has to say.

3) Say what you know.

And that means saying things that you know, for sure. Like ” I will be here for you if you need my help in anyway”. Things which you should not say are, ” I’m sure everything will be alright.” Because you don’t know. So don’t say that. And don’t tell your friend what you know about cancer, if you do not know for sure. It is not the best time to confuse your friend at this moment with half-truths and hearsay.

4) Be helpful and mean it.

Many times cancer patients do not know what help they need. So try to suggest ways you can help. Eg. Suggest that you can ferry your friend to the hospital, visit the doctor with her or help with any chores around the house. And if your friend doesn’t accept your help initially, don’t despair. She might not be ready to ask for help yet.

5) Be sensitive.

Ask if your friend is comfortable speaking about cancer. There are days when a cancer patient is tired of being just a cancer patient and wishes to be normal. Remember your friend for who she is and try to be normal around her. She will appreciate being treated as a friend and person, instead of just a cancer patient.

There you have it! Remember, it is difficult to deal with cancer AND someone else’s reaction to cancer. So go easy on your friend.

Here is a helpful website for caring for cancer patients:

MacMillan Cancer Support



Young adults with cancer, finally

7 Jun

Finally we are getting the conversation about young adults! LiveSTRONG, bless them, has started a series of topics to help young adult cancer survivors move forward. There are interviews and accounts from survivors about how cancer has affected them and how they can move on with the leftover effects from treatments.

Some helpful topics include: Dating and sex after treatment, Fertility, Friends and family etc.

I’m so happy that they decided to do a series on this because more young adults are being affected by cancer and we need to get the conversation going. How to survive cancer treatment and also as important, how to deal with the diagnosis while these adults are in the prime of their lives.

You can visit the LiveSTRONG blog for more details, or watch the videos on YouTube.

Talk it out.

14 Nov

There is a wonderful source of help in the form of kind voices whose faces you don’t see… and they belong to the counsellors at the Singapore National Cancer Centre Helpline.

If you feel like speaking to someone but you just feel like your friends or family will not understand what you’re saying, the cancer helpline is a good source of support. Oncology nurse counsellors are on the other end of the phone and they are trained with speaking with cancer patients, whether if you are dealing with the anxieties of your diagnosis or the side effects of cancer treatment. Most of all, it is absolutely anonymous and you will not be pressured to reveal any personal details if you do not feel comfortable. I called to ask about the tightness of my right arm last week and the nurse was kind enough to mail over some illustration of physiotherapy exercises that could help.

To speak with a National Cancer Centre oncology nurse counsellor, you can call them between Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 5.30pm at (65) 6225 5655. Alternatively you can also reach them at cancerhelpline [at]