This Week’s Ask Alice: How To Help A Friend Who Has Been Diagnosed With A Terminal Illness.

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Phil Asks: Have you ever been at a loss for words when a close friend has been given bad news? And what would you do after they receive bitter news that they have a year to live?

A close friend who I worked with this past Holiday period, discovered she has cancer. So what is the correct cancer etiquette? Or is there such a thing?

With the news of terminal cancer only a few days old, I still need to know:

· When to speak, when to be silent?

· What to say, what not to say?

· How to listen, and how to listen some more?

Alice Responds: Your compassionate letter about a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, touched my heart.

On December 29, our daughter, Heather, completed her fourth round of chemotherapy. Now she awaits her second stem cell transplant, for which an adult donor must be found.

Since her original diagnosis of Hodgkins Disease in February of 2007, Heather has patiently endured the mistakes of people who speak before they think, about her challenging situation.

Although I’m not Miss Manners, I’d like to share a few tips from Heather’s experiences in the hope that we all can be more sensitive to our friends in need.


DON’T PROBE. Don’t ask life-or-death questions regarding the prognosis or outcome of a friend’s illness.

DON’T OFFER UNSOLICITED ADVICE. Don’t pressure your friend to find another doctor or go to a different hospital. Your friend’s decision involves many variables such as medical insurance or lack of insurance. In most cases, she is receiving care from a doctor she trusts.

DON’T BE A CREPE-HANGER. If your uncle died from cancer, don’t tell your friend about your late uncle’s demise.Also, your friend doesn’t need to hear your theory about why she became ill. She needs your support, not criticism.

DO ASK, “HOW ARE YOU FEELING?” This simple question offers your friend an opportunity to share every detail of her illness or steer the conversation in a different direction if she’s not in the mood for a lengthy chat.

DO LISTEN. Our sick friends need consolers and empathetic listeners. If they want our advice, they will ask for it.

DO SPEAK WORDS OF LOVE. “I love you,” “I’m praying for you,” “I’m here for you.” Love is the universal language of the heart. Before you phone or visit, pray that the Holy Spirit gives you loving words to speak to your friend.

DO CALL TO SAY HELLO. Some people never call a sick friend because they don’t know what to say. “Hello” is the proper greeting. Then let your friend lead the conversation, and you follow.

DO SEND CARDS. Cards that say, “Thinking of you,” or “Here’s a hug,” are always appreciated. Flowers or a box of her favorite cookies work well, too.

Heather’s strong faith, positive attitude, and zest for life make her an inspiration to everyone who knows her.

No one would have guessed that the woman wearing an elegant black gown with stilettos, at the Eve of the Eve Party, at Union Station, had endured 3 1/2 hours of chemotherapy the previous afternoon.

Throughout her treatments, Heather teaches her 6th graders every day and takes courses to complete her administration degree at night. Her loving husband, Mike, shares her abiding faith in God.

Clearly, Heather’s illness is a test of our faith. But I believe in miracles!!!

On Thanksgiving Day our dear friend, Fr. Walter, anointed Heather. Many people are praying for her healing.

Heather is in the care of an excellent earthly oncologist. Moreover, her eternal oncologist is almighty and awesome! I have complete confidence in God’s power to heal my precious daughter and anticipate the day when I’ll proclaim Heather’s healing in this column!

Although your friend was told she has one year to live, her oncologist is simply guessing. Only God knows the exact length of your friend’s life, and He isn’t telling. Meanwhile, there’s always hope for your friend. Never underestimate the power of prayer, the fabric from which miracles are fashioned.

An excellent book about “how people prevail in the face of illness” is, “The Anatomy of Hope” by Jerome Groopman, M.D. With love and prayers, you can be a beacon of hope that will brighten your friend’s life.

Thank you for caring about your friend. We will remember to keep both you and her in our daily prayers. Please keep me updated about her health.

In Christ’s love,