Monday, August 29, 2016


Nine things people with cancer want you to know

Doesn’t it feel as if everywhere you turn, there is somebody fighting cancer?

It’s no wonder when you read the statistics of the incidence and prevalence of cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approximately 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data). In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.

The American Cancer Society reports that the majority of cancer survivors (64 percent) were diagnosed five or more years ago. Fifteen percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed twenty or more years ago.

I asked several friends and neighbors who are cancer survivors to share some insight into their experience, specifically, “What one thing do you wish people would know, do or say?” I was surprised at some of their answers.

• “Don’t judge me. Making healthcare decisions is very difficult. They are literally life and death decisions, and it’s discouraging when someone questions or second-guesses my decisions.”

• “Sometimes I wish people would refrain from giving me their opinion or telling me horror stories about others with cancer. Just be with me.

• “Designate a spokesperson who can give updates.” The friend who shared this said that when she had surgery, her husband gave frequent updates to all who cared to know. It was a great relief to know her family and friends were sending their love and support, but she could rest and recuperate while her husband handled all of the communications. Another resource is, a free online tool to keep friends and family updated.

•“Don’t just drop in to visit. I don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you I’m too exhausted and don’t want to chat. Call me and ask if it’s a good time. I would love to see you when I’m feeling stronger.”

• “Offer specific things to help me, like pick up groceries, or mow the lawn, or bring my kids to a birthday party. Please don’t say, ‘Call me if you need anything’ because I have limited energy and won’t do that.”

• “Just because I’m diagnosed with an incurable cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end for me. Cancer treatment can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get discouraged. I want to still have fun and joy in my life.”

• “Sometimes I just want to open up and talk about my struggles with someone who has been there. That’s why going to a cancer support group on a regular basis has been so helpful to me. We’re all in the same boat and can understand each other.”

• “I am more than my disease. Sometimes people forget I’m a mom, daughter, sister, teacher, friend and good neighbor. It’s hard when people just see me for my cancer diagnosis and don’t remember I’m still me.”

• “I’m very grateful for the cards and notes and emails from people just saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘sending positive thoughts your way.’” My friend contends it’s never too late to send a card, even weeks after surgery, or at intervals during the long months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The emotional boost the cards and notes bring is very welcome at any time.

Keeping in mind that these suggestions do not apply to everyone, the insight and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated. It is food for thought as we strive to be sensitive and supportive for our family and friends living with cancer.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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