Almost three years later, the remark still stings. "Oh, my God! This will be your wake-up call!" an acquaintance told the Rev. Debra Jarvis after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "It was unbelievably insulting to imply I needed one," says Jarvis, an oncology chaplain at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. A woman who learns she has the disease suddenly has her life upended. If you're her friend, you may feel at a loss for words and actions. Here are supportive and respectful suggestions:
Change topics if she responds curtly when you ask how she is, says Jarvis, author of It's Not About the Hair: And Other Certainties of Life & Cancer. "You may be curious, but you have to wait for her to give information."
The moment she's made a treatment decision, you need to support that. otherwise, you're essentially telling her she made a bad move, and that's the last thing she needs to hear.
"I loved cards and answering-machine messages saying, 'Just know I love you and am praying for you -- no need to call back,'" Jarvis says. "It lets you know they're thinking of you, but puts no pressure on you to reply."
"It gave me great comfort knowing so many people were praying for me," says Michelle Palmer, an Irvine, California, mother of three who had a double mastectomy three years ago.
That, and your concern, will always be treasured.