Saturday, April 13, 2013

Perspectives on Dealing with Sick Friends & Family

A Smiling Jewish Friend recently posted links to LA Times and WSJ articles on the Dos and Don'ts of interacting with friends and family who are sick. Here are the links:

How not to say the wrong thing

For a Sick Friend: First, Do no Harm

The first article has an interesting way of categorizing your own emotions when someone you care about is ill. Frankly, it is about not being selfish albeit well-meaning. I recently used its Ring Theory in thinking about my own actions regarding those I care about and their health challenges. It helped.

The other article has "10 commandments for conversing with a sick friend." Since I have been on the receiving end of those comments for a few months, I will share a few of my thoughts: 

1. Rejoice at their good news. Don't minimize their bad news.

I completely agree with this advice! I must say 99% of my friends, family and acquaintances have absolutely practiced this recommendation. I have only had one instance of a friend coming across as minimizing the type of breast cancer I had - and I do not think they meant it in a hurtful way.

2. Treat your sick friends as you always did—but never forget their changed circumstance.
This one is tricky but I agree. It seems best to talk about normal stuff first and then later in conversation ask how things are going. As time passes just inquire every few encounters - not with every single conversation. It is sometimes hard to get off the illness topic when that is the the lead in comment. But I also appreciate people showing they care by asking.

3. Avoid self-referential comments.
Personally, this one does not bother me too much. People are just trying to relate in any way they can.

4. Don't assume, verify.
Yes. My experience with breast cancer is that there are lots of factors to consider. There are various parts of the diagnosis and the treatment. There are many paths to consider and each has a different set of circumstances, outcomes and risks. None are perfect or obvious.

5. Get the facts straight before you open your mouth.
Again this one does not bother me too much. Most of us have too much going on ... it is hard to keep it all straight.

6. Help your sick friend feel useful.
Not the least bit applicable to me. I can, however, see how this would be important in lots of recovery situations.

7. Don't infantilize the patient.
Duh. Of course.

8. Think twice before giving advice.
I disagree with this one. Doctors do not always lay it all out for the patient. Talking with others with similar health experiences is very helpful and welcome. I am perfectly comfortable listening to the advice and then applying the parts that matter to me.

9. Let patients who are terminally ill set the conversational agenda.
Fortunately I have no experience with this one.

10. Don't pressure them to practice 'positive thinking.'
Another hard one. We are a society that places great value on positive thinking. There is a fine line to walk between allowing someone to grieve and be vulnerable versus encouraging the positive attitude. I have viewed my journey of healing in more pragmatic terms. I am making informed decisions that work for me and my loved ones. My positive outlook is more of a "getting on with life" posture. What other choice is there really?


  1. You are truly a model. Keep it up.

    1. Thanks Anonymous ... searching the internet for bits to help me has been important so perhaps someone will find my thoughts and it will help them ...

  2. Hi,

    I have a quick question for you regarding your blog, but I couldn't find your contact information. Do you think you could send me an email whenever you get a chance?