Bruce Feiler author of “The Council of Dads: A Story of Family, Friendship and Learning How to Live”, recently shared an excerpt of his book in The New York Times. Bruce had bone cancer; he also had 3-year-old twins, a working wife, nine months of chemotherapy and 15 hours of reconstructive surgery to deal with. When someone asked his advice on how to handle a mutual friend's brain tumour, he came up with a list of things not to say to someone battling a dire health situation:
1. “What can I do to help?” (Don't ask, be proactive).
2. “My thoughts and prayers are with you” (A tired cliché)
3. “Did you try that mango colonic I recommended?” (Leave treatment advice to the doctors)
4. “Everything will be OK.” (You don't know that)
5. “How are we today?” (Sick people aren't mentally diminished infants)
6. “You look great.” (Don't focus on externals).
On this last point, one of my friends had stomach cancer when she was younger and lost a lot of weight during treatment. She works in fashion and I vividly recall how colleagues would say, “You look fantastic”. Even when they knew why she was so thin. Maybe they thought it would cheer her up. It simply made her upset.
Meanwhile, Bruce Feiler's list of things you should say includes:
1. “No need to write back” (Keeping up with correspondence can be overwhelming)
2. “I should be going now” (Short visits are best)
3. “Would you like some gossip?” (Distraction is helpful)
4. “I love you” or “I'm sorry you have to go through this” (Honest expression of emotions are a powerful gift).
I sent his article to several girlfriends at various stages of their health battles - some in the middle, others out the other side - and they agreed with every point.
Disclaimer: I've not read Feiler's book so it may be that what's above is out of context or covered differently in some other part of the book, but I've been exposed to just what the readers of the article have been.