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Knowing what to say

What do you say to someone who, out of the blue, has been diagnosed with cancer? Many men in this situation have admitted that they didn’t know what to say. They were terrified of saying the wrong thing, and upsetting the woman they love. They ended up saying very little. All the evidence suggests that this is the worst thing you can do.

Professional advice suggests you should communicate – as much as possible, more than ever before – with the woman you love. The following tips might be helpful.

  • It’s OK to ask her how she is feeling (she wants to know you care). Do this often if you can.
  • It’s OK to say “I don’t know what to say” (she then at least knows you are feeling and thinking about her).
  • The best advice is to be human – tell her how you are feeling, talk about ways in which she feels you can help and support her most.
  • “Don’t worry” sounds reassuring, but is in fact asking the woman you love to do something that’s impossible. Of course she is going to worry. So are you. There is something wrong with both of you if you don’t.
  • Understand that small things can really make a difference, both positively and negatively, to the woman you love during her diagnosis and treatment. Many things are affecting her and small things that would normally not upset her now do. Similarly, small things you do for her, which would not usually be noticed or commented on, can bring great joy and comfort.
  • Be prepared for the woman you love to react more energetically than usual to lots of small things. Recognise the extra reaction when it occurs, and accept it. There’s nothing either of you can do about it and trying to fight it will only make matters worse. The Americans have a word for your tactics here: “Chill”.
  • Be aware that other men in her life – brothers, uncles, fathers, friends and so on – will be facing exactly the same dilemma as you. Make sure they understand that communicating is extremely important, and that they must overcome the fear of not knowing what to say as well.