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People don’t send cards or write letters like they use to. Email and social media have made getting on contact easier and more accessible for many of us. The act of sending a card is saved for momentous occasions, or when you the time and patience to put pen to paper and the ability to go the post office to send. There is a lot more thought and actions into sending a card.

From the moment you’re told “you have cancer,” life can become a bit bewildering. There is usually and an influx of people calling and visiting to show their support. But often people just need a space to process the news and develop a plan. A card requires more effort than a text or email, but is less intrusive than a phone call or visit.

People with cancer, are first and foremost people. As silly as it sounds, it can be forgotten, and people start assuming that they don’t want to be reminded they have cancer, or they will be upset if the “C-Word” is mentioned. The term “stepping on eggshells” may come to mind, when thinking what should I write. This is not necessarily the case. 

A good exercise before writing to someone is writing a card to yourself. What would you want to receive from that person? Short and to the point? Or long and detailed? There is no correct answer. But the term “thinking of you” can be the bane of many people with cancer, after hearing it for the hundredth time. People just want it to be acknowledged that they’ve received bad news; it will be tough, but they are supported. This can be expressed in numerous ways. 

Once you've written the card adjust it for the person. For example, if they are not close, you may not know their type of humour or level of support. But if it is a close friend or relative, you’ll probably find you can to tailor the message more personally. 
 

 

If you want to show a friend or loved one that you're there for them, tell them! Write your mobile number or email address at the bottom of the card, so that the person is able to contact you easily if they need you, or just want to talk.

Our oncology nurse Elizabeth looked after the following patient nearly eight years ago. 

She had just a double mastectomy and felt rubbish. She was telling me that her daughter's boyfriend’s parents (following?) wanted to come in and visit. She had never met the parents before and was becoming quite frustrated. For you see, this patient loved to entertain, to have visitors was a large enjoyment for her. And if she was going to host (even in hospital), she would do it properly. Her line which stayed with me forever was “why on earth would I want to see people when I don’t have my pearls on.” She could appreciate their good wishes and support, but said frankly “why can’t they just send me a card.” She relayed the message to her daughter, saying thank you for their thoughts, but she was not up for visitors at present. 

This same patient was quite popular, her phone was constantly ringing. And usually just as she finally fell asleep after her pain was controlled. Her humour was amazing, and as appreciative as she was, if I was in the room, she would hang up the phone, smile politely and say “I haven’t spoken to <insert name> for 6/8/12 months, why do they think I want to talk to them while I’m feeling at my worst.”

And yes, this is just one patient's experience. And perhaps she is in the minority. But the point that is unless you know the person exceptionally well, and their preferences of contact, you may be intruding on their quiet time or causing unnecessary frustration. 

But with a card, no matter how unwell the person you are writing to is, you can’t disturb them or intrude them. Merely send well wishes and support.