Things that do not help

Sometimes people say things to parents of children with cancer that aren't helpful. If you are a family member or friend of a parent in this situation, please do not say any of the following:

• "God only gives people what they can handle." (Some people cannot handle the stress of childhood leukemia.)

• "I know just how you feel." (Unless you have a child with cancer, you simply don't know.)

• "You are so brave," or "so strong," etc. (Parents are not heroes; they are normal people struggling with extraordinary stress.)

• "They are doing such wonderful things to save children with leukemia these days." (Yes, the prognosis is usually good, but what parents and children are going through is not wonderful.)

• "Well, we're all going to die one day." (True, but parents do not need to be reminded of this fact.)

• "Its Gods will." (This is just not a helpful thing to hear.)

• "At least you have other kids," or "Thank goodness you are still young enough to have other children." (A child cannot be replaced.)

A woman whom I worked with, but did not know well, came up to me one day and out of the blue said, "When Erica gets to heaven to be with Jesus, He will love her." All I could think to say was, "Well, I'm sorry, but Jesus can't have her right now."

Parents also make the following suggestions of things to avoid doing:

• Rather than say, "Let us know if there is anything we can do," it is better to make a specific suggestion.

Many well-wishing friends always said, "Let me know what I can do." I wish they had just "done," instead of asking for direction. It took too much energy to decide, call them, make arrangements, etc. I wish someone would have said, "When is your clinic day? I'll bring dinner," or "I'll baby-sit Sunday afternoon so you two can go out to lunch."

• Do not make personal comments in front of the child: when will his hair grow back in, he's lost so much weight, she's so pale, etc.

• Do not do things that require the parent to support you (for example, repeatedly call up, crying).

• Do not ask "what if' questions: What if he can't go to school? What if your insurance won't cover it? What if she dies? The present is really all the parents can deal with.

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