SELF – This Oncology Nurse Apologized To Her Patients After Developing Cancer

It isn’t easy to know how to help or what to say to someone battling cancer, and it isn’t hard to get it wrong. After receiving her own cancer diagnosis, this oncology nurse realized just how much she “didn’t get it” and delivers a powerful apology to her patients. In so doing provides a glimpse for those of us into what battling cancer really feels like and how compassionate loved ones can help.

I was pleased to weigh in on the power of empathy, and the quiet salve of a compassionate, listening ear. To read the article at SELF, click here.


Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., agrees. “There’s very little that’s scarier than a life-threatening diagnosis, and it is frankly hard to know what to say to a friend or loved one in this situation,” she tells SELF.


The waiting process, whether it’s to find out the extent of their cancer or figure out the best course of treatment, is often the hardest part, Clark says. “Anxiety surges and days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like months, and there’s very little someone can do to take control as they navigate the waiting,” she says. In those times, it can be especially helpful to reiterate that you’re not going anywhere. “Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are doing and listen wholeheartedly,” Clark says. “Let them know how much you care about them and that you can handle their feelings.”


While it’s tempting to only look on the bright side, saying things like, “it will be OK” and “you will get through this” can make a loved one feel like they’re not being heard, Clark says. Plus, they often just make you feel better—not the patient. “They are more for ourselves and our resistance to facing something so scary, sad, and seemingly unfair,” she says. “Unfortunately, these statements are often experienced as dismissive, and even offensive.”

Above all, just be there for them. “There is something so powerful about standing with a person, witnessing their struggle, and letting them know that they can count on you for support,” Clark says. “This is love in action, and this is the best thing we can do to help.”

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD