Upper Holloway cancer survivor advises on what not to say
"The worst thing I had was someone telling me that their aunt or family member had died from cancer."
18 February, 2019 — By Emily Finch
A CANCER survivor is advising residents on what not to say to friends and family diagnosed with the disease.
Jen Taylor, 30, a client content manager and journalist, has advised people to not tell patients that they are “brave” or “fighting cancer”.
“I got that a lot,” said Ms Taylor, who lives in Upper Holloway. “But I am not fighting anything, just getting treatment. When someone says ‘you’re so strong’ or ‘you’re so brave’ it forces a person to act a certain way and not necessarily how they are feeling.”
She advised people talking to someone with cancer to “listen first” and use similar language to the person with the disease.
“The worst thing you can do is tell someone with cancer how they should be feeling. The worst thing I had after I was diagnosed was someone telling me that their aunt or family member had died from cancer. That’s not what you want to hear. You almost have to comfort the other person too.”
Ms Taylor praised the staff at UCLH where she received treatment after being diagnosed with bone cancer two years ago. “They were absolutely fantastic and I am grateful for the NHS and the wonderful healthcare I received,” she said.
Ms Taylor said doctors have told her they can no longer see traces of cancer in her body.
She documented her cancer journey through a blog called the Cancer Chronicles where she uploaded pictures of her changing face during treatment. Surgeons had used part of her shoulder blade and muscles from her back to rebuild her face after a tumour was removed from her jaw.
Ms Taylor was backed by charity Macmillan Cancer Support who released the results of a poll which said 31 per cent of respondents found the label “hero” put them under undue pressure to be positive.
Ed Tallis, Macmillan’s head of services for London, said: “These results show just how divisive and ‘Marmite’ simple words and descriptions can be. Cancer throws all kinds of things your way, and struggling to find the words, and the emotional turmoil caused when our friends and family don’t get it ‘right’ only makes lives feel even more upended. We know that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ person with cancer, so it follows that people will prefer different ways of talking about it. We hear from Londoners every day who face this problem, that at its worst could even stop people getting the support they need.”
He added: “By drawing attention to this we want to encourage more people to talk about the words they prefer to hear, and stop the damage that can be caused to people’s wellbeing and relationships. Our support line, information services and Macmillan professionals are right there to make sure that everyone with cancer gets the support they need.”