People with mesothelioma usually appreciate rides to and from treatment, words of encouragement and home-cooked meals from friends and family.
But most have also received something they don’t appreciate: Unsolicited advice about what they should be eating or drinking.
I’m sure cancer patients are familiar with these common words of advice:
- “I read that sugar feeds cancer. You need to avoid all sugar.”
- “Eating an alkaline diet will cure your cancer.”
- “My neighbor juiced three times a day during his chemo, and his cancer is gone.”
- “There’s an herbal supplement in Mexico that cures cancer, but your doctors don’t want you to know about it.”
As a therapist with experience in cancer settings, many patients and their caregivers have told me stories about how the barrage of unsolicited nutrition advice and suggestions left them overwhelmed, annoyed or both.
Well-meaning friends and family members routinely recommend the latest cancer treatment supplement they heard about or offer dietary advice after doing their own online “research.”
The diagnosis and stress of coping with treatment already makes mesothelioma patients feel anxious. The advice from those close to them adds pressure, and ultimately, it causes the opposite effect of what their loved ones intended.
For example, some patients may misinterpret this advice to mean they should question their physician’s treatment plan. Others may start doubting their own doctors.
Why Do Loved Ones Offer Unsolicited Advice?
Because many people feel helpless when a loved one is battling mesothelioma, they may search for opportunities to demonstrate their concern and help the patient.
While doctors and nurses are the medical professionals providing the patient clinical care, loved ones may believe they can supplement your doctor’s treatment with their own advice about basic necessities such as eating and drinking.
The bottom line is the majority of people offering unsolicited nutritional advice mean well. The exception is if that person somehow benefits from the information.
How Should Mesothelioma Patients Respond?
You may not have an immediate response to a well-meaning comment that didn’t have the intended effect. Sometimes, you may not wish to respond at all.
If a friend or family member sends you an article about how cancer patients should avoid all sugar, you may have the urge to engage in a debate. That may lead to a further discussion or perhaps an argument. By simply saying “thank you,” you acknowledge their good intentions without questioning the validity of their advice.
Ignore the advice
This is easiest choice for advice given on social media or email. Ignoring someone may be difficult for you, but it may be the best response when the suggestion is extreme or forceful. One patient told me a co-worker harassed her for not adhering to a vegan diet. She chose to ignore his emails outlining the risks of a nonvegan diet.
Be honest about how you feel
This strategy works best with people you feel may actually listen to you and respect your feelings when you express them. A good suggestion is to say:
“I appreciate you caring about me and wanting to support me during my battle with mesothelioma. But when I get advice that goes against the recommendations I have received from my oncologist and the treatment team, it actually causes me more stress. It makes me think you want me to doubt my treatment decisions and who I trust to provide my care.”
People who truly care for you will respect your feelings and concerns. Some may even feel relieved they don’t have to think of ways to heal you and may be able to simply relax in your presence.
Accept the inevitable
Despite these suggestions, some people will keep sending you articles about miracle cures from extreme juicing, secret herbal remedies or other nonscientific treatments. If the stress they cause outweighs their meaning in your life, try to limit the amount of time you deal with them.
Advice to Loved Ones: Be Mindful
Eating and drinking is something that we must do every day. Historically and culturally, we show people that we care about them by making them food when they are sick or giving suggestions about what kinds of foods or drinks will help them to feel better.
But it’s important to respect the wishes of the mesothelioma patient and not become too aggressive with our suggestions about nutrition because even though we may have the best intentions, we can end up making our loved ones feel worse.