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“Healing presence is the condition of being consciously and compassionately in the present moment with another, believing in and affirming their potential for wholeness, wherever they are in life.”  

 —James Miller, The Art of Being a Healing Presence  

Upon hearing the news that a friend or family member has been diagnosed with a serious illness, it can be difficult to come up with the right words to say. Research encourages us to remember that people in a crisis do better emotionally if they have strong and appropriate support. CancerCare ( offers some tips on how to reach out in a meaningful way:  

• Listen. Often, we are tempted to say “you will be OK” when fear or sadness are expressed. However, your ability to listen without judgment or “cheerleading” can be one of the most meaningful contributions you can offer.  

• Stay connected. Checking in regularly over the long haul is important. Cards work well, even on days when fatigue may make long conversations or visits difficult.  

• Share advice when you are asked but support their treatment decisions: Offering to research information on the diagnosis may be helpful. Avoid saying, “You should try... .”  

• Keep the caregiver in mind: Often, the main family caregivers put their own physical and emotional well being on hold.  

• When offering to help be specific: Rather than saying, “Call me if I can do anything,” try “I’ll bring dinner over on Tuesday,” or “I’ll walk your dog on weekday mornings.”  

• Honor their need to keep things “normal.” Be sensitive to the fact that for the person experiencing a serious illness, occasionally doing their routine “pre-illness” tasks can lessen their sense that their life is being consumed by the diagnosis.  

• Stay attentive to their needs once treatment is over: Many people completing treatment for cancer report that, “It’s not over when it’s over.” Your listening ear may be especially appreciated during this is the time when the enormity of what they have been through suddenly hits home.  

• Learn about the diagnosis: Seek out information from reputable professionals and organizations. For example, many people experiencing cancer have found CancerCare’s free Telephone Education Workshops to be a way for people to learn about cancer-related issues from the convenience of their home.


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