When someone you love has been diagnosed with a scary illness, knowing what to say or do can be difficult. You want to be supportive and helpful, but you may also be afraid to say the wrong thing or make things worse. It’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
First, it’s important to acknowledge the person’s feelings and let them know that you are there for them. You might say something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I can only imagine how scary this must be for you, but please know that I’m here for you and I want to help in any way that I can.” This lets the person know that you are there to support them and that you are willing to listen if they want to talk about their feelings.
Do not start going on about all the people you know or have heard that have “scary illness.” What you think they have done or how they are being treated. Do not go to the “God doesn’t give you more than you can bear,” By the way, that is not a true biblical statement, AT ALL. Why do people start comparing or telling what others have gone through or treatment regimens, etc.? Usually, it is because they really do not know what to say or how to act. They don’t understand that they can keep their mouth shut and just sit with the person. Just sit with them and be quiet, let them talk or not talk. It is okay that you feel uncomfortable.
It is difficult to process an unwanted diagnosis. It will take time. Your brain protects you from too much information at one time. It shuts down. It takes time to get your breath back. It takes time to settle down enough to start working on a plan. Always remember what my daddy says, “They said and I heard” are the two biggest liars in the world.
It’s also important to avoid offering unsolicited advice or making assumptions about what the person is going through. Instead, ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to help. They may not know what they need right away, but simply knowing that someone cares can be a comfort in itself. Remember, the most important thing you can do is to be there for them and let them know that they are not alone.
Understanding the Diagnosis
Types of Scary Illnesses
When someone you care about receives a scary diagnosis, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Scary illnesses can include cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other related dementias, Parkinson’s disease. Multiple sclerosis, Cancer, Lupus, COPD, Stroke, Diabetes, etc. Any chronic illness can be a scary illness. It is important to remember that each person’s experience with a scary illness is unique, and it is important to provide support that is tailored to the individual’s needs.
Emotional Impact of the Diagnosis
Receiving a scary diagnosis can be an emotional rollercoaster. It is common for individuals to experience a range of emotions, including denial, fear, anger, and sadness. It is important to validate the person’s feelings and provide a safe space for them to express themselves. Did you know that you can validate a person’s feelings even if you disagree with them? It isn’t about you or what you think you would feel. It is about them and what they feel, right at this moment.
- Denial: It is common for individuals to deny the diagnosis at first. They may feel that it is a mistake or that the doctor is wrong. It is important to be patient and understanding during this stage.
- Fear: Fear is a natural response to a scary diagnosis. It is important to provide reassurance and support during this time.
- Anger: Anger is another common response to a scary diagnosis. The person may feel that it is unfair or that they have been dealt a bad hand. It is important to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings.
- Sadness: Sadness is a natural response to a scary diagnosis. It is important to provide emotional support and encourage the person to seek professional help if needed.
It is important to remember that everyone’s emotional response to a scary diagnosis is different, and it is important to provide support that is tailored to the individual’s needs.
What to Say to Someone That Has Been Diagnosed with a Scary Illness
Receiving a scary diagnosis can be a life-changing experience for anyone. It’s important to be there for your loved one during this difficult time and offer support, practical help, encouragement, and positivity. Here are some things you can say to help them through:
Let your loved one know that you are there for them and that they are not alone. Saying things like:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”
- “You can count on me.”
These statements show your loved one that you are there to support them and that they can rely on you during this difficult time. Don’t say it, if you don’t mean it.
Offering practical help can be a great way to show your loved one that you care. Some things you can say include:
- “Let me know if you need help with anything.”
- “I can help with grocery shopping or cooking meals.”
- “I can take you to your appointments.”
Offering specific ways to help can be more helpful than just saying “Let me know if you need anything.” Most people are too overwhelmed to think of what needs to be done. What can you do that you don’t mind doing? For example, doing laundry doesn’t bother me so I would offer to do that. Someone else may like to cook and is willing to do that. Still, others may like to clean the house or mow the yard. Do not offer to do something that you hate doing.
Encouraging your loved one can help boost their spirits during this difficult time. Some things you can say include:
- “You are a strong person, and you can get through this.”
- “I believe in you.”
- “You have a great support system, and we are all here for you.”
Encouragement can help your loved one feel more positive and hopeful about their situation. It is perfectly fine to be realistic and still be encouraging at the same time.
Staying positive can be difficult when dealing with a scary illness, but it can help your loved one feel better. Some things you can say include:
- “Let’s focus on the things we can do to make you feel better.”
- “You are not alone in this.”
- “We will get through this together.”
Positivity can help your loved one feel more hopeful and less overwhelmed by their diagnosis. Being positive does not mean that we are ignoring reality, but we are choosing to focus on moving forward and doing the best that we can.
What Not to Say
When someone you care about has been diagnosed with a scary illness, it can be difficult to know what to say. While you may have the best intentions, certain phrases can be hurtful or unhelpful. Here are some things to avoid:
Avoiding Cliches and Platitudes
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with illness is different, so generic phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “you’ll come out stronger on the other side” may not be helpful. While you may be trying to offer comfort, these cliches can come across as dismissive or invalidating. Basically, don’t say those things.
Instead, try to acknowledge the person’s feelings and offer your support. Phrases like “I’m here for you,” “I’m sorry you’re going through this,” or “I can’t imagine how hard this must be” can be more meaningful.
Steering Clear of Unsolicited Advice
While you may be tempted to offer advice or share stories of other people who have gone through a similar experience, it’s important to remember that everyone’s situation is unique. Unsolicited advice can come across as pushy or dismissive of the person’s feelings and experiences. I know that this is hard not to do. I go into “fix it” mode myself and I have to stop myself before opening my big mouth.
Instead, try to listen to what the person is saying and offer support in the way that they need it. If they ask for advice or information, you can provide it, but otherwise, it’s best to avoid offering unsolicited advice.
Remember that the most important thing you can do is to be there for your loved one and offer your support in the way that they need it. Listening, acknowledging their feelings, and offering practical help can be more meaningful than any words you say.
Dealing with a scary illness can be an incredibly difficult and emotional experience for both the patient and their loved ones. It’s important to remember that everyone copes with these situations differently and there is no one right way to handle it.
One of the most important things you can do when someone you know has been diagnosed with a scary illness is to simply be there for them. Offer your support, listen to them, and let them know that you care. Remember that it’s okay to not have all the answers or to not know what to say. Sometimes, just being present is enough.
It’s also important to be mindful of how you communicate with the person who has been diagnosed. Avoid making assumptions or giving unsolicited advice. Instead, ask them how they’re feeling and what you can do to help. Be honest, but also be sensitive to their feelings and emotions. Sometimes, it is better to ask how are things going rather than how they are feeling.
There are also practical things you can do to support someone dealing with a health crisis. Offer to help with everyday tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning. You can also help them navigate the healthcare system by accompanying them to doctor’s appointments or helping them research treatment options.
Finally, remember to take care of yourself as well. Supporting someone through a scary illness can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking care of your own needs as well. Don’t be afraid to seek out support for yourself if you need it.