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Sep 15, 2008

How to Write to Someone Who Has Been Diagnosed With Cancer

In life, one cannot avoid pain. You can help make it seem less painful through your sincere support.

    Educate yourself. Before writing, learn what you can about the nature of the illness, and specifically about the patient's individual circumstances from his or her family or friends.
   Choose genuine concern over sympathy. They need to know that you support and care for them, not that you feel sorry for them.
    Be sincere, but tactful. Cancer may be terminal, manageable, or curable. In any case, you should be careful not to approach the patient as if you consider them to be terminally ill.
    Do not give medical advice; the doctors already take care of that bit.
   There are more and more cancer survivor stories than in the past. Many alternate healing therapies offer solutions which have worked for some patients.Visit these sites to read a few such stories. You will feel more hopeful and it will reflect in your tone.You could even suggest some such therapies or websites where the patient can read more. A cancer patient is looking for the smallest shred of hope, so anything which offers possibilities of cure in the bleak days after the diagnosis, would be welcome.
    If the patient is a believer and you are too, say that you will pray for them.It's a disease where no one knows how it is caused and what will happen. In other words only God has the answers, and it would be comforting for the person to know that there are people invoking Him.
    Take care with offering any advice outside your own experience. If you wish to offer positive words, choose them carefully, sharing thoughts and ideas that are uplifting and give strength. Again, it is your personal support that will be most helpful.
    Most importantly, remember that there is life both during and after cancer. Cancer patients do not always want to think or talk about the illness. Make a point to write about the usual things you would talk or write about.
    Read your letter before sending it. Put yourself in the other person's place and make sure that your letter is something you would not mind receiving.

    Keep your tone similar to how you might write to a person suffering from a serious but common illness. Cancer may not be the common cold, but it is not unusual!
    Keep the overall tone of your letter positive, not negative. Re-read your words and close on a positive note.
     Mention any similar cases you know of which had a positive outcome. This provides a ray of hope.

    Don't write one letter and disappear. True support comes with continued action, not just a few words.
    Do not comment about things that you think they could or should have done differently to prevent the illness. Even if it is true, it is not supportive.
    Since the person is likely under much physical and emotional stress, you could get any kind of reaction. Please do not be disappointed even if the reaction seems unfriendly.
    Don't tell the patient that they "must" think positive thoughts in order to get better. Saying this puts an intolerable burden on the patient, and it's not even true.