When Someone Says, “I Have Cancer”

Being told someone you care about has cancer can personally be a very traumatic experience. Not knowing what to say in those circumstances can often leave you feeling confused and awkward. Difficult conversations can be eased when you are more equipped with how to deal with them and know the right approach to take. 

It is important to take a moment to think before you speak, it is vital in those situations for you to be able to demonstrate EMPATHY to that person.   Understanding the real differences between empathy and sympathy will also enable you to identify with how they are feeling, allowing you to emotionally support them better through this time.

EMPATHY – is being able to emotionally relate and feel what that person is feeling in the moment, listening with your head and your heart.

SYMPATHY – is showing a feeling of sorrow, pity or compassion, showing concern by sympathising with them

Understanding how that person feels having been diagnosed by putting yourself in their shoes is a good start, but you still may feel still feel unsure of how to respond with empathy so here are some example of ways to create and demonstrate empathy in those situations: –

Listening – make sure the person who is talking to you feels they are being heard by focussing on what they are saying

Respectful – show respect for the person’s communication of their feelings

Acknowledging – recognise the importance of what they are saying through warm body language, eye contact and open body language

Connection – show a willingness to enter that person’s world by clarifying what they have said to encourage them to continue to speak further

Reflecting – identify and repeat back their feelings in an understanding manner to show that they have been heard and understood

Sharing – let them know how it makes you feel too, sharing emotions will allow a stronger connection

It’s about simply being there for that person. Using the techniques described above will help to demonstrate the empathy you will undoubtedly feel.  

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