In part 1 of “Practical Grace–How to Not Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer,” I shared my observations from a recent cancer treatment appointment and what I observed there with regard to people’s typical reactions to a friend with cancer. In that post, I shared how each of these responses correlated to the responses in the book of Job by his friends toward him when he experienced major tragedy. In part 2, of “Practical Grace—What Not to Say to Someone With Cancer,” I’m sharing what isn’t helpful to say when a friend or loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, and then in part 3, we’ll consider what IS helpful to say to someone with cancer.
5 Things Your Friend with Cancer Doesn’t Need for You to Say:
Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death,” and James 3:10 says “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” Let’s choose to uplift, breathe life and bless with our words.
1) Please, Please, PLEASE! If you speak with or go visit a friend or a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer or some other medical condition, please don’t share stories of others you know who did not do well, or who had a difficult time or who faced complications!
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
2) Please, don’t tell them your theory of what led to their disease, or even what you think the “be all to end all” miracle cure is. Both of these induce guilt, shame, and condemnation on an individual who is hurting, who is grieving for what they thought would be, and who really needs your love, compassion, and prayers more than anything.
- Job: “Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy” (Job 19:21).
- Let’s not forget Jesus’s response when they tried to cast blame for the man’s blindness: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
If you have first-hand experience with a treatment or potential cure that was successful, ask your friend first if they are interested in hearing about potential options. They may already be too overwhelmed. Be sensitive to their needs, not your agenda.
3) Don’t offer input your friend may not be ready for. Remember, Job’s friends didn’t get into trouble when they sat silently with him, it was only when they began to speak!
- Job: “If only you could be silent! That’s the wisest thing you could do” (Job 13:5).
- Job: “They know I have no one to help me. They come at me from all directions. They jump on me when I am down” (Job 30:13-14).
4) Don’t assume YOU know the best course of action for your friend or loved one’s situation. Let your ill friend seek GOD for wisdom to determine what HE wants them to do in their situation.
- Job: “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die, wisdom will die with you! Well, I know a few things myself—and you’re no better than I am…Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer…True wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:2-4, 13).
- Job: “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding?… God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found” (Job 28:12, 23).
- Job: “The ear tests the words it hears just as the mouth distinguishes between foods” (Job 34:3).
5) If they want an opinion, let them ask you for it. Even with all my years of medical training and decades of patient care, I make it a practice not to offer my opinion unless I’m first asked for it.
- Job: “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5).
- Job: “My friends scorn me, but I pour out my tears to God.” (Job 16:20)
Please hear me. I’m not saying medicine has all the answers—they don’t. But God does. I’m not saying medication is the answer—by and large medicine doesn’t cure, rather it addresses the symptoms. I’m not even saying some of these suggestions don’t hold some merit—they may. But they are unsolicited, prideful, and hurtful in the delivery.
Job was an encourager (see Job 4:3-4 and 16:5-6 and 29:13), and when calamity struck, what he needed, like most people who have been given a major medical diagnosis or are going through a crisis, is encouragement, love and compassion. Scripture says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Prayer for God’s help when your friend or loved one has cancer.
May I pray for you?
Father, cancer is an evil disease. We know that it is your desire that we would prosper and be in health even as our soul prospers. Father, we seek you for your wisdom and discernment for what to do in each individual situation. Father, where there is bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, let us release that to you. Let us live in your peace despite our situations. Help us to be good, faithful, supportive friends to those who are hurting and in pain. Let us offer the hope we have found in you. Guide our words and our actions. May they come from a heart of love and compassion. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.
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