I’ve written columns in the past that suggest what to say and what not to say to a person with cancer. Many readers have found those suggestions helpful, but a few have said that they wanted something even simpler to guide them.

Here it is: be kind.

This echoes the words of the Dalai Lama: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” A quote from Maya Angelou also provides guidance: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In the cancer world, people tend to be uncertain, scared, and overwhelmed. They don’t really want your advice, nor will they hear you if you say more than a few words. But they will feel your kindness.

Kindness is one of those attributes that may be difficult to define but is easy to recognize. In a ten second encounter with a cashier in a store, you can usually tell whether the cashier cares that you’re a fellow human being. Even brief and simple encounters that include kindness make our lives better.

When you’re newly diagnosed with cancer, you feel especially raw. Every encounter tend to take on added significance. This is why the front office staff in a doctor’s office can make a huge difference. Patients – especially cancer patients – recognize and appreciate kindness even if it comes in the form of a smile or a gentle hello.

If your friend has cancer, just be kind. Don’t stress over your words because they’ll soon be forgotten. Just let them know that you care.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.
Original publication date: Jan. 24, 2015

 

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