Q. How can I support my cousin who has cancer without saying something stupid or wrong that would upset her more?

A.

I’ve heard many people with cancer say that their job is so much clearer than their loved ones'. A person with cancer is supposed to follow the medical advice for treatment and do what the doctor says. For loved ones, it’s sometimes hard to know how to be helpful.

If you want to give your cousin emotional support but are concerned about broaching a sensitive subject, keep in mind that while it’s upsetting, your cousin knows she has cancer. It is her reality, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. Too often, patients are denied the opportunity to talk about their feelings and fears, either because loved ones don’t want to upset them or are uncomfortable hearing about it themselves. It’s okay to ask your cousin how she is doing, and to let her know you are available to listen if she needs to talk.

If you are unsure what to say to your cousin, read our fact sheet, What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One?. Keep in mind that not every patient wants to discuss his or her feelings, so don’t push too hard. But those who do wish to talk will appreciate your willingness to listen. She may just need to vent, or you may be able to provide some practical information or resources to assist her.

People with cancer who do express their feelings and fears, can also get tired of talking about their illness. Your cousin may appreciate conversation about “lighter” topics, such as favorite movies or T.V. shows, or that great book you or she just finished. While it may seem trivial to talk about these subjects, patients still want and need to feel “normal,” and to have a life that isn’t all about cancer, all the time.