2014-THANKSgiving

My Child Has A Tumor: What NOT To Say To Me

94 Comments

boy-in-hospital

A few months ago, my son was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. I’m not going to go into the details of where it is, what it is, or how rare it is. I will tell you however, that he is doing great and we have every reason to remain calm, focused and positive. Needless to say, when your child has a serious illness, your entire world turns upside down. Breaking the news to your family and friends is difficult. But, even more difficult is hearing some of the responses. While some reactions are exactly what you want and what you need to hear, others are exactly the wrong words to say. So, I’m going to throw you a bone and give you a heads up so you know what NOT to say to someone if they just found out their child has a serious illness or disease…

“I Can’t Imagine What You Must Be Going Through.”

I’ll tell you why I hate this statement: you are now putting the burden on me to comfort YOU. Now I must respond to you by saying things like, “Yes, it’s truly hard, but we are going to get through this,” or “Yes, I never thought this could happen to us, and we were in shock at first, but now we are in a better place.” The fact of the matter is you’re probably right that you can’t imagine what we are going through and if that’s the case, please don’t make me feel worse. You are basically saying to me that what we are going through is so horrible and so awful that you can’t possibly imagine it. Not exactly the pick me up I was hoping for.

“You Are Handling This So Well…You Are So Strong.”

I am not a super hero. I’m a mom, doing what every other mom would do – absolutely anything and everything to make my child better. When people tell me I’m strong, I get the feeling they expected me to shrivel up into a ball and endlessly cry. Of course I WANT to do that. Who wouldn’t? But, I can’t. And you couldn’t either. This is my kid who needs me. So, I’m going to put a smile on my face and be strong for him, because that’s what a mom does. I realize we all have choices to make in terms of how we are going to handle a crisis or challenge. But, I’m willing to bet that 99% of moms are going to choose to be a strong model for their children.

“What Can I Do To Help?”

I LOVE that you want to help, I really do. But, please don’t ask me what you can do because it is extremely hard for me to ask my friends and family for help. You already know I need the help: I’ve got two other kids, a dog, laundry, and so on. Except I’m not going to feel comfortable giving you a list of groceries to buy, meals to prepare, and telling you when to carpool my kids. Instead of putting me in the position of dictating to you what I need, please just do whatever you think might help me out. I had one friend who did not ask, but simply delivered to our door a bunch of frozen meals, toys for my son, as well as the perfect items for stressed out parents: sleepy-time tea, candy, a plant, and a heartfelt card basically saying “I’m with you on this.” One of my other friends knew my husband would need the help at home while my son and I were out of town at another hospital for medical treatments, so she set up a meal train online. She emailed the link to a bunch of local friends and neighbors and voila, my husband and other two boys will now have meals delivered a few nights a week. And the meal train will continue on the days my son has treatments when we are back home. We are truly grateful for the help, and even more grateful that we didn’t have to ask for it.

“He Will Be Fine.”

This one rubs me the wrong way, even though it shouldn’t. I want you to be positive and reassuring and that’s just what that statement is doing. And, we too are positive and know he will be fine. And yet, you are not his doctor, and you don’t know the details of his illness and the tough decisions we’ve had to make along the way. He WILL be fine, but for you to say it as if it’s so obvious and simple – as if he’s recovering from strep throat – well, we’re in a different category over here so please don’t pretend we’re not.

The real hero, the real warrior in all of this is my son. And yet, it amazes me how many people don’t ask how he is doing or feeling. Remember, if you really want to support me, show the support to my son too. Even though he’s the most resilient, brave, and laid-back kid with a tumor that you could ever know, he still needs the love too.

Comments

The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

  1. 1

    says

    Thank you for sharing what not to say, because I think I might be guilty of a few over the years trying to be nice and helpful in times like these, but not always sure what is the right or correct thing to say. I think in times like these, people just do get weird and say things to try to be kind and nice. But you are right this is so not what needs to be said or heard when your child is sick. Again thanks for sharing and happy to see you here today.

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  2. 3

    says

    I’m so sorry that your family is having to go through this.

    I know I’ve been guilty of saying some of those things to families that were going through a rough time- simply because I didn’t know what TO say and I wanted to say something, not just ignore their situation.

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    • 6

      NoAdditives says

      Right?! I’m always seeing lists of things not to say to people in various situations, but that’s not really helpful. Give us recommendations for things we should say instead. Other than the “just do things instead of asking” suggestion in this post there was nothing helpful. It just makes people feel bad for having the same gut reaction responses. In all honesty, it kind of makes people not want to address it at all since that’s easier than saying something that will apparently annoy you.

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      • 7

        anothermom says

        If you read the last paragraph, she essentially says she wants people to ask how her son is doing/feeling, etc. And she also asks that people help where they see a need… she no doubt doesn’t have a lot of time to think about how to comfort others…

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      • 8

        Cassy says

        Agreed. All these lists of “what not to say when…” get old. Okay. You want to help write a list of “what to say when…” This is just you venting, blaming others when they’ve done nothing wrong. I mean really “What can I do to help?” is a damn fine thing to say to someone who is struggling. There is nothing kinder a person can say but you don’t want to hear anything and if they just didn’t say anything you’d whine about that too. Stop complaining about/alienating your well meaning friends and family and see a therapists who maybe actually can help you deal with what’s going on in your life.

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    • 11

      jessica H says

      For real, I probably wont say anything anymore, don’t want to get on the persons nerves. I just recently told a friend of mine from high school that “I can’t imagine what your family is going through” after she told me the news that her 20m old son has been diagnosed with Leukemia. I was not looking for a response from her, I was simply making a statement, because I can’t, nor do I want to, wrap my mind around this horrible thing that is happening. Of course I asked about him, how he was, what he needed, etc.
      Agreeing with the people below, all of these “what not to say” posts are a little overplayed. It makes me feel like just staying silent…I wont say anything to the parent of a sick child, or a parent of a child with disabilities because I might say the wrong thing. On the other hand, I am sure people are tired of hearing the same thing over and over….but maybe you could just not turn it into a blog post?

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  3. 12

    Stevi says

    I understand what you are saying, and I appreciate all the articles about what not say to certain parents, such as this one. However I truely wish these types of articles were followed up with “What we SHOULD say”

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    • 13

      says

      The most helpful thoughts to me have been the phone calls or cards that simply say, “I love you” and “we will get through this together.” Knowing I have the support of friends and family through simple gestures is hugely comforting.

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  4. 14

    Katie says

    The difference between offering help, and GIVING help is huge! Thinking of you mamma, and give that boy a big high five from me… one childhood cancer surviving warrior to another! xoxo

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  5. 16

    Tony Mo says

    Pretty much spot on. You put into words what I was feeling, but couldn’t define. Our summer was spent going through chemo for my 6-year old with Hodgkins Lymphoma, so thanks for the post.

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  6. 18

    says

    It is really helpful to know what you’re wanting and not wanting right now. I hope you’re able to let people know this as it comes up for you…not in a needing to take care of them sort of way but in a taking care of YOU sort of way :) How is your son doing and feeling? He is fortunate to have such a connected, caring, and loving mom.

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    • 22

      says

      I agree that it’s unfair and so hard to find the right words. I think just letting someone know that you are truly there for them means a lot. And not just saying it once. But, letting them know you are thinking of them through consistent phone calls, a card, a small gesture, etc. — those types of things have been very comforting to me.

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  7. 23

    KTG says

    For some reason articles like these bug me, mainly because it is obvious the people saying them are concerned and are trying to be supportive the only way they know how. So I agree, if you are telling people not to say these things, please tell them what they should say instead. Personally, if anyone said these things to me.. I would not be offended or annoyed unless, they said it in a tone that meant they didn’t mean it and were just going through the motions. I know for a fact, I have said ” let me know what I can do to help” and that comes down to personalities. I am the kind of person who hates when people assume I need or want help and start helping, because if I want or need help I will ask.

    With that being said. I am sorry for this tough time you are going through and really do hope everything will get better and better.

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    • 24

      says

      Thank you for your thoughts – I do appreciate it. I think you’re right that people can vary in terms of what appeals to them in times of need. For some, asking for help is quite difficult. For me, the most helpful thoughts and actions have been consistent check-ins asking how we all are via phone calls, emails, texts and small gestures like cards and meals for my family.

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  8. 25

    says

    I remember when you first talked about this at Gen Fab, and my first thought was: how to help? It takes time to learn that it is better to say less and do more, and that it is more important to show up, than ask if you’re needed. But it’s hard. Giving and taking can both feel clumsy. The thing is to know you’re prayed for, thought of, supported, loved, and deeply cared for. Good thoughts, and thank you for helping people help you.

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    • 26

      says

      Yes, you are so right about saying less and doing more. Show me the love.:) And I completely agree about the giving and taking being hard on both ends. Thank you for your kind and caring thoughts.

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  9. 27

    says

    I am so sorry for what your family is having to go through. I hope that your son makes a full recovery. My daughter’s good friend (who was eight at the time) was diagnosed with cancer two years ago this Christmas and I am afraid that I may have said all of the things on your list (with the exception of the last one). ugh. I am curious, too. What do people in your situation want to hear? What are the best things to say? When we lost our son at the age of two, I liked hearing “I can’t imagine what you are going through” from people who had not ever lost a son because it was infinitely better than: “I know how you feel,” when I truly think that’s impossible. So, I guess since I liked hearing that sooooo much better than “I know how you feel” – I thought that would be something appropriate to say. guess I was wrong on that count!

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    • 28

      says

      First, I am deeply sorry to hear about your son. I sincerely appreciate you sharing with me what was helpful to you after experiencing such a loss. You have made me realize that what may be comforting to one person, is not comforting to another. And by the way, I too have said some of the things on my list in the past to other people, which is why I felt the need to write this post. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts and comments.

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  10. 29

    Jennifer says

    I’m so sorry your family is going through this.
    I’m wondering, however, what you would consider the “right” thing to say. I know when I say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” to someone, I mean that every person deals with crises in her own way, and I wouldn’t assume I know exactly how she feels. I’m not sure how that is offensive. And as for someone asking how she can help…maybe that’s just it. Maybe she doesn’t know exactly what to do…she just knows she wants to help in some way.
    I understand that you must be tired of the same platitudes day after day, but please understand that most often there aren’t any hidden meanings behind them.

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    • 30

      says

      I don’t know if there is a “right” thing to say and I’m sure it does vary by person. For me, the most comforting thoughts have been simple and sincere and consistent: I’m here for you, I love you, etc. And then, to follow-up those thoughts with small gestures of help, be it a card, a meal, a toy for my son. Those are huge comforts during a crisis.

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  11. 31

    says

    Most of that list comprises statements that are very natural and that we all say. But having been through a similar situation, I agree with almost all of what of this. I can’t speak for Emily, but for me helpful things were just asking how he’s doing, how the the rest of the family is. The acknowledgement that this is a really rough time…without any follow up (yes, the superwoman compliment never works). And offeing to do something, meals, babysitting, rides. Even just offering to come over, or an invitation to lunch.

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  12. 33

    GPC says

    Honestly, we need to start being more supportive of each other and that means understanding the intentions behinds someone’s comments not just their words. All of these seem like things people who want to help say. Normal people are not specially trained therapists with writers on hand to craft the perfect reaction to horrible news. And other people in this position might not be receptive to “help” that isn’t asked for or desired.

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    • 34

      says

      I do agree that not everyone is receptive to help. I think it’s almost harder to accept help than to give it. I also agree that it’s extremely difficult to know what to do or say and I too have been guilty of not saying or doing anything at all. It wasn’t until I was in this situation that I knew I wasn’t as supportive of a friend during a hard time as I could have been.

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  13. 35

    says

    Whenever there is a family illness/emergency it is very difficult to know how to offer help/support. A few years ago I broke my back in an accident. We had recently moved to a new city, and I didn’t have any close friends nearby. With 2 school-age kids – it was hard. I would have LOVED evening meals delivered. A sick child is much more devastating, and I would love to know what you feel would be a strong and supportive response. My best to you and your family!

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  14. 36

    Kim Thomson Pattison says

    I came to realize while fighting my daughters battle with cancer with her ,people try and be helpful with words but they dont know and god forbid will never have to find out what you are going through!Just keep in mind they are clueless and mean well :) If you need help for god sakes ask.. people are not mind readers I know its hard to ask but they dont know how to help you unless you tell them what you need help with!Yes you are strong ,stronger than you ever thought you could be you dont realize what you would do or how strong you can be untill faced with your child having cancer understand they in theyre minds are thinking they couldnt do what your doing right now they cant imagine!Cancer is a battle you and your son are fighting together so stay strong and dont sweat the small stuff in the end all that matters is that you and your son come out of this battle mentally and physically healthy!!

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  15. 38

    Dawn says

    Like many people I never know what to say. I was at a party once when my friend told me her husband was terminal (while he was standing next to her). In in few seconds hundreds of comments ran through my head. I’m sorry, I’ll pray for a miracle , What can I do but, in the end I looked up at my friend’s husband and said “Well that sucks”. He laughed and said yes is does. Since then I’ve used that same line a few times (unfortunately) Cancer sucks!! plain and simple.

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    • 39

      says

      Sheesh, I wouldn’t know what to say in that situation either. The whole reason I wrote this post was because I’ve said all the wrong things to people going through hard times, and sometimes nothing at all, which is even worse.

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  16. 40

    says

    What a great post! My son was diagnosed with a rare disease earlier this year and has been on chemotherapy since February. At the time of his diagnosis he was 3 months old. It was a nightmare! I think people truly didn’t know what to say to us and I felt that they often avoided talking about our son which was really disappointing. We want others to ask about him and to know that people are thinking of him and praying for him. You are right, the best thing that anyone can do is just show up with help on the day to day things. We have a 2 year old daughter as well and I literally felt like the bottom had dropped out of our world. Overwhelmed would be an understatement. Thankfully, my son is doing really well now. The statement “I can’t imagine what you are going through” is definitely the most common we heard from people. I think they just truly don’t know what to say. I think it also hits maybe a little bit too close to home for some people. I do feel that often people try to minimize what you are going through with statements such as “he will be fine” in order to maybe make themselves a little bit more comfortable with the situation.

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