Don’t Give Advice

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

People often call me and say, “My friend was just diagnosed with cancer. What can I do to help her?”

My answer is simple: Be present and don’t give advice.

Being present is a matter of maintaining a connection with that person. This can take the form of visits, calls, cards, prayers and other expressions of support.

Providing unsolicited advice is what friends often do, but should avoid. I’ve written about this in the past, but it’s becoming an increasingly significant problem in the Internet age.

This advice is now coming in the form of forwarded e-mails and links to websites. They usually provide the “answer” to what caused a person’s cancer, emphatic dietary advice, or the latest scientific breakthroughs in treating cancer in mice.

Please don’t send these.

I just talked with a woman who she said that she received this sort of e-mail nearly every day from friends who were trying to be helpful. Rather than being helpful, she found the emails disturbing and unsettling. Each time, she had to step back, take a deep breath, and “center” herself.

People who are newly diagnosed with cancer are often emotionally fragile. They’re also struggling to piece together large amounts of information. Sending them additional information – even a well-meaning email about a potential cancer breakthrough – is disruptive and generally not welcome.

Those of us with cancer want our friends to email and connect in other ways. But please don’t give advice or pass along the latest cancer news. Just tell us that you love us and that you’re sending good thoughts our way.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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