Despite being an incredibly common condition, many of us still have an emotional blindspot when it comes to cancer. It’s something that we hope never happens to us or our loved ones—but most of us eventually confront cancer in a friend, acquaintance, family member, or loved one. Over 40% of the US population will have cancer at some point in their lifetime, and if they don’t they’ll statistically be expected to support four immediate family members or close friends through the disease.
If cancer strikes, we want to communicate our support thoughtfully, writing cards to the cancer patient. Still, we often struggle to figure out how to write a card for someone with cancer and how to best support them.
In this article, we’ll offer a few helpful pointers for what to say on a card for someone with cancer, in different situations. No matter the prognosis of the person, the best policy when determining what to write in a card for someone with cancer is honesty. Carefully consider your feelings and try to communicate what you hope and feel for the patient.
What To Write For Those Who Have Just Been Diagnosed
Empathy begins with the diagnosis. It is a disease that can go through remissions and returns, so it always weighs heavily on the mind.
The first thing to communicate in cards to someone diagnosed with cancer is to assure them that you are there. Let them know that, “I am here for you,” or assure them that, “you are never alone.” Cancer is something that needs love and support to combat.
At the same time, you should be realistic in what you write. What you write depends on your relationship with who you are writing the card to, and how far away they live from you. Don’t promise that you will always be over for an acquaintance living in another city. Such promises come across as fake, and the card can seem insincere.
When you’re writing, try to be realistic about what you say regarding their diagnosis or ability to “beat” the disease. Late-stage diagnoses of certain types of cancer can sometimes have low rates of recovery, so try to be optimistic but not toxically optimistic in what you write. Focus more on the relationship between you and the patient.
It’s also important to emphasize consistency. A sense of normalcy helps reduce the stress and fear of a cancer diagnosis. Remind them that cancer, “doesn’t change who you are,” and that, “cancer doesn’t change our friendship.” This reassures them of your continued support and helps them see just how many people care about them.
What To Write For Those Going Through Treatment
Reminding someone of your support is also important when you know someone undergoing treatment for cancer. Letting them know that you are thinking of them and are willing to help out can help alleviate their stress.
Do your best to inspire. Cancer treatment is a fight, and your friends and family need to know you have their backs. Remind the patient of how strong they are, and that fighting is important. Tell them that you are, “rooting for them,” and remind them of other challenges they have successfully overcome in the past. Don’t be afraid to act the cheerleader—everyone appreciates knowing that others believe in them.
You also should try and keep them aware of the greater meanings of their fight. Too often, cancer treatments can seem like an endless process. You should remind them that they are, “one step closer,” to beating cancer every day and that every step they are taking is important and worthwhile.
Not only is this encouraging, but it helps give the patient a greater sense of control. A reminder of the goals they are striving towards helps reduce the sense of hopelessness that cancer can bring.
What To Write For Those in Remission
When writing a card for someone going through the remission of their cancer, it pays to be very cautious before you start. Not all remissions are the same, and you should try to understand what kind of remission it is before you start writing. A remission could mean that the cancer is beaten, but it could also simply be a temporary pause in the progression of the disease.
In many cases, it might be entirely unclear which kind of remission it is. You don’t want to be too optimistic with a statement that appears tone-deaf or ends up sounding cruel after the fact.
Still, you should try to be congratulatory here, with appropriate restraint. If you don’t have full information on the remission, err on the side of caution. Congratulate the recipient of the card for, “coming this far,” and for, “fighting so hard,” rather than, “getting rid of cancer.”
This is another point where honesty matters. Tell them just how much they inspire you, and how happy their recovery makes you. Most of all, remind them that it was their strength and actions that brought them to this point. Once again, this emphasizes the control they have. If cancer does return, this will put them in a mindset where they have the power to beat it again.
What To Write When the Diagnosis is Terminal
One of the most difficult things to come up with is what to write in a card for someone with cancer with a diagnosis that is terminal. In this case, the power of inspiring optimism can ring hollow. Many simply don’t write at all at this stage, because they feel they have nothing they can say. However, this can be the most important time to express your feelings and give comfort and support.
It is important to remain cheerful in your writing, even at this point. You don’t need to discuss the diagnosis itself. It may be most comforting to discuss something else of a shared interest to you and the recipient. Just always make sure to let them know that you are thinking of them at this moment. You might find that sharing the reasons why that person means so much to you, inspires you, or encourages you will be just the reinforcing words they’d like to hear.
At this point, the recipient may be extremely exhausted, mentally and physically. Whatever you do write, make sure that it is honest and caring. The goal is to make the recipient feel appreciated and loved.
Learn More About Writing to Cancer Patients
OneVillage is the first online wishlist, planning tool, and specialty product retailer for cancer patients and their supporters. A cancer diagnosis gives patients and their supporters enough to worry about— take advantage of cancer support resources that allow you to help. Whatever your questions or concerns are, OneVillage is here to support you.