When a loved one receives a difficult diagnosis, it can feel overwhelming, painful and difficult. We’re wired to want to support the people we care about but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to do, no matter how much we care about the person. While there’s no real roadmap, you can definitely support your loved one in a way that’s doable for you and meets their needs. Here are some do’s and don’ts for these tough situations:
We all want to feel useful at times like these, but sometimes the most important step is to listen and learn what their actual needs are. They might need you to be a doer, a shoulder to cry on, or both. it’s OK to ask what your loved one needs from you, and it’s OK if those needs change over time.
Don’t say things that are out of your control.
It’s tempting to say things you might think are uplifting, like “everything will turn out fine” or share “survival” stories. Instead of inspiring hope, these comments might dissuade your loved one from sharing their true feelings when they aren’t doing well. Saying things that you can control, like “I’ll be here to support you,” is a better bet.
Get the right information.
If you want to research your loved one’s condition, it’s easy to get sucked into endless information from “Dr. Google.” While there’s a lot of useful, valid medical advice online, there’s also a lot of misinformation, and it can be hard to tell one from the other. Be sure you’re relying on reputable sources, especially if you’re sharing your findings with the person you’re trying to help.
Offer specific help that you can follow through with.
“Let me know how I can help” can be overwhelming even under the best of circumstances, and now might even feel like a burden. Be proactive and specific: Offer to have a favorite meal delivered, help with getting kids to/from school and activities, take a chore like vacuuming off their hands, or communicate updates to friends and family. If you say you’ll do something, be sure you can do it.
Don’t force it.
If you offer help and your loved one refuses it, don’t take it personally. Everyone needs to cope in their own way, and it’s OK if they don’t want or need help right now. Recognizing when someone needs time and space can be as valuable as any other supportive actions. Even if they say no to your offer, be sure to still check in regularly. They might need your help eventually, but it’s even more important to just let them know you’re here for them.
Communication is key.
Give your friend or family member an easy way to share updates and information without all of the calls, texts and emails, as well as keep all their health information organized and secure. They can use Kith + Kin to keep track of all the information related to their diagnosis, then share only what they want with whom they want.
For example, they can create a notebook that lists upcoming appointments and indicate which ones they need someone to join them for; they can then share that notebook with anyone who has offered to take them to appointments, so the right people have the information they need. With your loved one’s permission, you could even offer to set up their Kith + Kin profile and add any documents, notes and other relevant information for them.
Ultimately, remember that your loved one is in control of their health and their situation, and you’re there to support them in the way that works best for them.
If you’re the one facing a tough diagnosis, these resources might help:
8 tips for coping with a serious diagnosis (Mayo Clinic)
4 tips to help you cope with a difficult diagnosis (Dignity Health)