If you know someone with a serious illness, please don’t do this
This is a tricky subject, because the offending statement you’ll see below comes from good intentions. And when someone genuinely means well, it’s not easy to tell them to not do what they instinctively want to do. Which, for many, is to say something like:
“Have you tried [insert suggested remedy here]?”
First though, some examples, starting with something you may have experienced yourself, up to the scenario I’ll be basing the rest of this post on:
- You have just heard that a colleague has a bad back. You suggest that they try pilates because your hairdresser’s son did and it worked for him.
- Your brother has told you he has a bad case of the flu. You suggest tea with echinacea before bed to cure what ails him, and as luck would have it, it’s on sale at the local vitamin barn.
- Your daughter has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. You suggest she try herbal remedies because you read a magazine article where a woman called Sue was given six months to live by doctors and she took some herbs in pill form and is still going strong four years later.
I apologise in advance if you see a bit of anger coming through in my words. It’s because this shit makes me angry and I don’t feel the need to hide it.
The obvious defense
“I’m only trying to help!”
I think the fact that these “helpful suggestions” are based on best intentions makes them even worse.
Why would I say that?
For us to understand that, we need to get into the mindset of the recipient of your helpful suggestion.
This person has just discovered that their life is not what it used to be. It is no longer a path lazily meandering through a field of sunflowers, disappearing over the horizon. It is a tired, dirty road ending at a brick wall well within sight.
There is no horizon, there is no ‘maybe one day’. From now until the very end, it’s all planned out.
Your loved one’s illness is their entire life now — or more specifically, the treatment. They are up late at night reading scientific papers with words they don’t understand, describing promising treatments that are tantalizingly close to being approved by the FDA, but not quite. They are sifting through a sea of information, contradictory ‘evidence’, mixed signals and certainty only where it doesn’t belong.
This isn’t a cold. It isn’t a situation where they can just try some ginger root and ‘see if it helps’. No, their life is now is a carefully choreographed dance with death.
Finances are re-prioritized, dates are circled in calendars, ‘arrangements’ are made.
And then you arrive, with your helpful suggestion. “Have you tried homeopathy? I listened to a podcast about cancer cures and some people swear by it.”
The words that come out of your mouth are not what you’re saying. What you’re saying is “I dismiss all the hard work you have put into planning your fight with cancer. I think you are doing it wrong. I think you are more likely to die if you do your thing that if you do my thing. If you do not do my thing … well … it will be your fault when you die.”
Your loved one is left with three choices:
- Tell you no. How will you react to that? Will you feel rejected? Hurt? Will you press the matter? Will you continue to argue the benefits of shining a UV torch on their blood? Will you question them as to their callous dismissal of your suggestion?
- Lie, and tell you yes. They are doing this to avoid an argument. This is the position you have put them in. If your suggestion is accepted too readily, don’t forget to chase them up in a few weeks to make sure they’ve done that oxygen treatment you read about on a website written by a professor so it must be true.
- Follow your suggestion. Throw out the advice of their oncologist, discard all the paperwork they have completed in order to join a clinical trial, and instead book into that clinic that has prices right there on the website — and if you fill out the form now, you’ll get “a same-day FREE medical consultation”. That’s fucking handy.
So, when you first blurted out the words “hey you should try reiki, did you know they can do it via email now?”, which of these outcomes were you hoping for?
Let’s look at each in bit more detail.
Option 1: tell you no
Here’s the real tragedy: your loved one is at a point in their life where they need all the love they can get. They need you close. They need you on their side, to be in it with them.
You could have been a port in a storm, a shoulder to cry on. But instead you told them that they’re doing it wrong.
You could have been someone that they could discuss treatment options with. But instead you told them that coffee enemas are the best way to fight cancer — because you read so on the website of “Dr Axe” and it looked really professional with a stock photo of coffee beans without the shutterstock watermark so you know they paid for it — so there’s no point discussing it further.
You’re no longer a sympathetic ear, no longer a comrade in arms.
Why would you want that? Why have you done this?
Option 2: lie, and tell you yes
In these times, your loved one values you more than ever — needs you more than ever — so I’m sure you can see how they would not want to dismiss you and potentially upset you with number 1.
Tell me, have you ever felt hurt and said the words “I was just trying to help”?
Stop and think about just how selfish that is. You want your loved one to have cancer and guilt?
It’s so mind-bendingly self-centered I don’t even know what to say to you.
OK, your loved one has decided that based on past experience, it is best not to say ‘no’ to you and get your knickers in a twist. So they lie to you and say ‘yes’. And then they continue to weave this web of a lie, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
But the lie will slowly reveal itself. You will notice your loved one hasn’t quit the chemotherapy like they agreed they would. And your Healing Yogi™ tells you that they haven’t seen your loved one in their cancer-be-gone meditation sessions.
The deception will unravel and forever be a stain on the glass between you and your loved one.
You did this. Why did you do this?
Option 3: follow your suggestion
Perhaps your loved one is weak of will. Perhaps they are dependant on you, or worse, indebted. Perhaps pleasing you is more important to them than their own health or longevity. Perhaps the thought of upsetting you — or losing you — is unbearable.
And so they try your fresh-fruit-detox diet instead of take the pills ‘big pharma’ want them to take. Because a woman called Beryl on a cancer patient forum had stage 4 breast cancer and doctors gave her 12 months to live and a decade later she’s totally fine and all she did was a fresh-fruit detox, because everyone knows you can just shit cancer out.
You have manipulated a dying person into abandoning their own plans and doing what you want for fear of upsetting you.
Jesus Christ, you are the devil.
So, what should you do?
This has all been rather negative. Some stranger on the internet telling you to not do something, knowing nothing of the dynamic between you and the loved one in question.
So let me be clear on the message: think about how your suggestion will make your loved one feel.
That’s all. Just think about it.
If you still think they must know about killing cancer with lasers — a technique that you read about on a website with both ‘foundation’ and ‘.org’ in the domain so it must be legit — then OK, go for it. I will add you to the list of things I don’t understand about this world.
In closing, I will go as far as to make one very general suggestion: if a loved one of yours is diagnosed with a serious illness, when it comes to treatment, be with them, not against them.