Greeting Someone with Cancer during Holiday Festivities Calls for Sensitivity

By Ubelacker, Sheryl | The Canadian Press, December 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

Greeting Someone with Cancer during Holiday Festivities Calls for Sensitivity


Ubelacker, Sheryl, The Canadian Press


Christmas: What to say to someone with cancer

--

TORONTO - The festive season often brings invites to parties and dinners, a chance to catch up with those we may not have seen for some time. So greeting an extended family member or friend who has cancer can lead to some awkward moments, especially if their appearance has changed dramatically.

So what is the right thing to say? And more to the point, what are the wrong things to say?

"People constantly say to cancer patients: 'You look fantastic. You look so great,'" says Nancy Payeur, a peer support counsellor at the BC Cancer Agency in Victoria. "And the cancer patients have mixed feelings about that because it's almost like they're saying, 'Are you really sick? You look just fine.'"

Some people with cancer have also been taken aback by such comments as: "'Oh, you've lost so much weight. How fantastic!'" she relates. "I mean, really, how ridiculous."

Payeur advises maintaining as much normalcy as possible to the person with cancer, but not saying in that hushed tone: "'Ohhhh, how are you doing?' Because I hear from people how annoying that is."

"They just want a normal conversation. They don't necessarily want to talk about their cancer. So I think something like: 'How are you doing?' and 'I've been thinking about you, and I know this is a difficult situation' -- some acknowledgment, but not in a patronizing, over-the-top way."

Brittany Boniface used Facebook to keep family and close friends up to date with her fiance Steve Shaw's battle with testicular cancer prior to Christmas last year.

"It was definitely a shock for people when they saw him or pictures of him. He looked like a completely different person," she says, explaining that chemo had robbed the 26-year-old of his thick head of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, and left him extremely pale. …

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