Saying the Wrong Thing Isn’t the Worst Thing

Does not knowing what to say to someone who has received a diagnosis of cancer or another terminal illness keep us from being the friend we want to be? What if you hear about it through the grapevine and aren’t sure he or she wants other people to know? What if, what if, what if? I could go on and on here with all the reasons we don’t get in touch, but instead I want to make a non-expert assertion that Saying Nothing is Worse than Saying the Wrong Thing. I think the same common sense rules apply here as apply to sending a condolence card: be honest; if you don’t know what to say then say, “I don’t know what to say,” and–most importantly–by phone, by email or by an old fashioned card–stay in touch.

When we designed this FUCK CANCER card it was with the thought that a certain kind of person who had just survived a long and unpleasant death of someone with cancer would really appreciate receiving it. I imagined sending it with a note inside that included something along the lines of “You were an incredible caregiver to the very end. I am in awe of the way you took care of your mom and she was lucky to have you there with her.”

But I can also see using the card as an icebreaker when you first hear of that diagnosis. If I wasn’t sure what to say, I’d use the resources of Breast Friends  and say something like, “I really don’t know how you feel, but I can only imagine you must be scared right now.” If this was a close friend who shared some of my sensibilities, I’d probably say, “Honestly, this sucks. Fuck cancer indeed. You might get sick of me because I’m going to check in a lot.  When can I see you?”

I might say the wrong thing or be too forward sometimes, but I would rather say the wrong thing than say nothing.