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7 Questions to Avoid Asking Cancer Patients

Supporting or taking care of a cancer patient is a noble thing to do.  This is even more honorable when the person is a loved one. But you need to avoid asking certain questions which can make her/him feel uncomfortable.  Remember, this is a difficult time; any simple impoliteness can lead to anger, frustration, or sadness.

In general, life of cancer patients is greatly impacted by the medical condition. In some the diagnosis can result in stress, anxiety and depression. You don’t need to worsen the situation but improve it. Therefore you need to be careful in how you communicate with them.

Here are some of the questions to never ask a cancer patient.

1. How long you have left to live?

15 years ago, just a few days after being diagnosed with cancer I received a phone call from a church leader. Instead of offering prayer or other supports, the hypocrite boldly told me: “don’t be sad because your time is limited; we all here to die one day.” I don’t think I need to comment this.               

All a cancer patient needs from you is hope and encouragement to fight the disease; not a “death sentence reminder”.  Some people manage to become cancer free after they were sent home to die. You don’t have to limit or make a cancer patient feels his/her life is limited due to a superficial prognosis.

2. Can I do anything to help?

This is another question which you should try to think twice over before asking. Asking this question at the right time and rarely can be very helpful, but too often can be annoying. Most of the times, the response you will receive is a polite ‘No’. And a no doesn’t necessarily mean that the patient don’t want you to do anything about the situation. It’s most likely that they want you to but are just a bit overwhelmed to think of anything.

Asking this question too often can also make the person uncomfortable. Besides asking the specific question, you should try to avoid having to put them in situations that will push them to think a lot. If possible, do the thinking and just portray your concern through your actions instead.

3. How serious is the cancer?

I am not going to beat around the bush on this one. You should never ever in your lifetime ask such a question to someone recovering from cancer; it will just trigger a lot of negative emotions in them. If possible, try avoiding any sensitive questions that are related to their prognosis or any bad news related to cancer. Someone dies of cancer for instance.

Other questions which can be detrimental include those questions related to their Chemo sessions such as how many chemo sessions they have and if they are getting any radiation and such. Also avoid talking about the side effects of the treatment. They are stressful and should be avoided.

4. How are you feeling?

This is a typical example that might come as a surprise to a lot of people but the fact of the matter is that it isn’t. Most people tend to ask this question to cancer patients a lot because they assume it will show that they are concerned about the patient and really care. The truth most cancer patients find that such a question, when asked frequently, can be annoying instead of helping.

This is even worst when the patient is not making any progress. In most cases, someone suffering from a malignant tumor might not be feeling so great, so instead of taking away their pain, such a question can act to remind them of what they are going through which won’t really work well with them.

 

5. What causes you to have the cancer?

The answer to the above question is simple, they don’t know. Ask any cancer patient what they did to get cancer, they will probable reply that they don’t really know, and their answer is a really honest one. Most of the times the only thing the people affected by the disease know is the have it in their body, not what causes it.

Consider something like lung cancer, the major cause of lung cancer is smoking but did you know that that’s just an assumption? There are other causes of that type of cancer which are not popular. Some people have lung cancer without ever smoke. By asking the patient what caused their type of cancer, you would be indirectly assigning a blame to them which might cause a feeling of guilt.

6. Are you scared?

I’ve heard a lot of people ask this question to cancer patients. Well, it’s not such a good idea. Cancer is among one of the most widespread diseases that often emotional distress. Chances are when one is affected by it, they are most likely fear of complications.

Dealing with that fear causes a lot of damages on their mental health and immune system.  You should not bring this feeling up by asking them if they are afraid or not. No one wants to be in an uncomfortable situation or environment. Just be there to reassure them and let them believe and know that they will get through it. Everything is just a phase in the end.

7. It is just on your mind

I know this is not a question but it’s still something that should be avoided. If you haven’t had an experience with cancer before, chances are, you really don’t understand and know how a patient feels. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about the person suffering from the disease. You should try to avoid assuming anything whenever you are communicating with a cancer patient. It’s not about you.

I know the tone seemed a little bit tough but I figured there was no better way for me to use for you to really get it. Cancer is a sensitive condition and those going through it are warriors in their own right and as such, they should be treated with care and precaution.

 

 

References:

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Williams, Lena (1994-11-03). "Gilda's Club for Cancer Patients Is Rising". NYTimes.com. New York City. Retrieved 2018-05-07.

"Mesothelioma Support Groups - Benefits and Resources". Mesotheliomagroup.com. Retrieved 2017-11-07.

Rosenbaum, Lisa (February 2014). ""Misfearing"—Culture, Identity, and Our Perceptions of Health Risks". New England Journal of Medicine. 370 (7): 595–7. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1314638. PMID 24521105.

Sulik, Gayle (2010). Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-974045-3. OCLC 535493589.

Welch, H. Gilbert (20 October 2010). "The Risk of Being Too Aware". The Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035.

World Health Organization (2004). "Annex Table 2: Deaths by cause, sex and mortality stratum in WHO regions, estimates for 2002" (pdf). The world health report 2004 -changing history. Retrieved 2018-11-01.

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