It’s not always easy knowing how to support someone with testicular cancer, but you shouldn’t let fear of saying or doing the “wrong” thing hold you back.
There are several things you should do (above all, listening) when talking to someone with testicular cancer — and a few things you shouldn’t say.
From running errands to bringing a meal to organising help from others, there are many ways you can provide practical support for a friend or loved one.
“I have testicular cancer.” Maybe those were the last four words you expected to hear. Now what?
Knowing how to support a friend or loved one with testicular cancer isn’t easy. It’s natural to worry about saying the “wrong” thing. But don’t let that stop you from showing up. Read on for specific, practical ways you can show your support.
This is your friend or loved one’s journey. Don’t assume you know what they need to hear right now or what they need from you. Let them lead the way. Specifically:
Some guys want to talk through every detail and every step of their diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. Others would rather talk about anything but. Either way, it’s up to them to decide how much they want to share and with who.
There’s a balance here. On the one hand, you don’t want to force a conversation they’re not ready to have. On the other hand, make sure you don’t avoid engaging if and when they bring it up.
Make it clear you’re here to support them however you can. Offer specific ways to help — especially if your friend or loved one has a hard time asking for what they need. But let them decide what support to accept.
Each person is different. People may need emotional support, practical support, or need friends and family to talk about their lives as a welcome source of distraction. What they want and need may change over time. It’s important to let them take the lead.
Talking about testicular cancer can be a bit awkward. That shouldn’t stop you, though. When your friend or loved one is ready to talk, remember the following tips:
Listen. If they’re slow to open up, try asking open-ended questions that invite more than one-word answers. For example:
- How have you been feeling lately?
- What are you most worried about right now?
- What are you most looking forward to when all this is behind you?
- What are you doing to take care of yourself while you go through this?
- How can I help you?
Keep your reactions in check. It can be difficult when someone you care about expresses strong feelings of anger, frustration or fear. Don’t overreact. It’s normal for them to feel a range of emotions while going through testicular cancer.
Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Only chime in if they ask. Even then, it’s always wise to do more listening than talking.
Don’t dispense medical advice. Leave that to their care team.
Don’t assume they know you’re in their corner. Tell them. More than once. Best of all, show it with your actions.
No matter how well intended, there are things some people say that do more harm than good. Strike the following phrases from your “words of encouragement” list:
“You’re so brave!”
“You can hardly tell you’re sick.”
“Hey, it could be worse.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Just pray about it!”*
*Caveat: If your friend or loved one is a faith-oriented person and they ask you for prayer or spiritual counsel, by all means offer it if you’re comfortable doing so. But don’t force it on them. Let them request it.
What’s worse than saying the wrong thing? Not showing up at all. Don’t keep your distance because you’re not sure what to say or how to help. Your presence matters a lot more to your friend or loved one than having the “right” words.
Always remember that your friend or loved one are more than their cancer diagnosis. You don’t need to bring every conversation back to their current situation. Find ways to connect around normal, everyday stuff. One thing almost every person with testicular cancer wants is a dose of normalcy and still sharing in what’s happening in other people’s lives can be welcome.
Practical support can be a lifesaver, especially when someone is recovering from an orchiectomy (testicular cancer surgery) or dealing with the sometimes grueling side effects of chemotherapy or radiation.
Don’t wait for them to ask for help. (You could be waiting a long time in some cases.) Be specific when offering your support. If you need ideas, here are a few practical ways you can show up for your friend or loved one:
Run errands. Do a grocery run or pick up their medicines for them.
Roll your sleeves up. Tackle some household chores or gardening.
Take the wheel. Driving them to and from medical visits (especially on treatment days) can provide some welcome relief.
Be their wingman. When you have testicular cancer, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about your diagnosis and treatment. Offer to accompany your friend or loved one to appointments, to help take notes and keep track of all the information thrown at them.
Bring a meal. Be sure to consider chemo-friendly foods. (This may not be the time to showcase your most adventurous four-course meal or your recipe for five-alarm chili.) The American Cancer Society has a few recommendations:
- Mild (i.e., not strongly flavoured) foods
- Cold or room-temperature foods (to minimise smell and taste)
- Sour foods — it may sound weird, but they can help keep nausea at bay
- Foods that are high in calories but easy to eat (i.e. puddings, milkshakes, yogurt, etc)
- Avoid fatty, spicy or fried foods.
- Above all, serve whatever sounds appetising to them. Ask what they feel like eating, then make (or order) it for them.
Call in for reinforcements. Organise friends and relatives to help with errands, food and whatever else is needed. There are many websites like Meal Train (US/Canada) and CaringBridge (worldwide) you can use to coordinate needs. Remember, doing it all yourself can lead to caregiver burnout. Speaking of which…
Being a caregiver is a big responsibility. It can be exhausting and may lead to burnout. Common signs of burnout reported by caregivers include fatigue, reduced appetite, and sleep loss (among others). According to some studies, at least 1 in 5 people caring for someone with testicular cancer will experience some form of burnout — whether it’s anxiety, stress or depression.
Simply put: the risk of burnout is real. And it only gets worse if you try to do everything on your own. Supporting your friend or loved one with testicular cancer is important, but so is taking care of yourself.
In addition to rallying others to help (see above), try to make time for yourself:
Get as much rest as possible.
Eat healthy foods.
Maintain contact with your friends and family.
Make time (even if its only a small amount) to do activities you enjoy.
Do the things that are rejuvenating for you. Don’t forget that your well-being matters just as much as your friend or loved one’s. The more you take care of yourself, the better you’ll be able to care for them.
Just about everything we’ve covered so far can apply when your spouse or partner is the one with testicular cancer. But if this is the case for you, there are a couple additional points to consider:
Be especially watchful for signs of burnout. Some studies suggest that anxiety is more common among family caregivers than those with testicular cancer. This could be, in part, because you’re shouldering much of the day-to-day care, while most of the practical support from friends and loved ones is directed at your partner. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need from others, even if it’s just someone to give you a break. There is never a wrong time to call in reinforcements.
Find support for your partner and you. We can’t say it enough: your well-being matters too. There are online groups like this one especially for partners of those with cancer.
When someone gets diagnosed with testicular cancer, some friends drift away or disappear altogether, often because they feel uncomfortable or don’t know what to say. Remember, cancer isn’t something you can “fix” for your friend or loved one. But that shouldn’t keep you away. Your presence, your ongoing solidarity and your support are just what they need most right now.