Worthing mum’s tips on what to say – and what not to say – to people living with cancer

Kate Henwood from Goring
Kate Henwood from Goring

A Worthing mum has compiled a handy guide with advice on what to say to people who are living with cancer.

Kate Henwood, from Goring, who was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2015, just two-and-a-half years after her husband died from oesophageal cancer, said people had found the guide ‘really useful’.

She said: “People quite often say things they haven’t actually thought through.

“They are trying to be helpful, but actually it’s not helpful.”

Scroll down to read a few of Kate’s tips.

The tips are included in a book she self-published about her cancer journey, called What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Stronger.

Kate, who runs two women’s business groups in Worthing and Arundel, has also written honestly and openly about her experiences with cancer on her Facebook page @Katecandothis.

She said she is motivated by the idea of helping others going through the same thing.

The 50-year-old also puts a lot of her energy into raising awareness of secondary breast cancer – which is breast cancer that has spread to other organs in the body, in Kate’s case to her bones, and is treatable but not curable.

Comparing it to some primary cancers, Kate said: “The mentality that you need to deal with it is completely different.

“You’re in for the long haul, it’s a case of learning to live with it.”

While the whole of October is designated as breast cancer awareness month, only one day – October 13 – is dedicated to raising awareness around secondary breast cancer.

“We deserve more than one day,” she said.

Kate said there was also less support available for people with this form of the disease from NHS Trusts.

She was recently invited by Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now to the House of Commons ministerial photoshoot to promote #WearItPink (October 18).

SEE MORE: Worthing mum diagnosed with cancer three years after losing husband to disease

She spent the day bending the ear of 180 MPs about secondary breast cancer, including a whole five minutes with PM Boris Johnson.

The mother, who has a 17-year-old son called Ollie, is hoping to set up a nationwide buddy system for people with secondary breast cancer, adding: “It’s scary and unless you have been there and done it, with all due respect, no one else has a clue what it’s like.”

While Kate’s cancer is in remission, it remains incurable, but for now she said cancer ‘takes up less than five percent of my daily thoughts’.

She said: “My ethos is cancer is what I have, not who I am. Life needs to be taken into account.

“I have a business and a home to run – and I’ve still got to cook the tea when my son comes home from college.”

An extract of Kate’s advice:

What to say to someone with cancer? Try these:

– “I don’t know how to help but I want to, don’t be afraid to tell me when you need (tick boxes) a lift, school run, need some shopping, a cuppa, when your stairs need hoovering etc”

– “Cancer is unfair, I can’t begin to imagine how you feel or what you are facing but I am sending you my love and positive thoughts.”

– “I’m here, for the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it”

Avoid these:

– “You’re an inspiration” - Kate: “This one drives me nuts!”

– “You’re so brave” – Kate: “What choice do I have?”

– “I know how you feel” – Kate: “Err...no you don’t”

What can you do to support your friend / colleague / family member?

– Be there – to hold a hand, go to an appointment, make a cuppa, cook dinner, go for a walk, normal stuff.

– Remember that your friend may not respond how you expect. They are experiencing every emotion all at the same time as they go through treatment.

– Treatment generally goes on for 9 months from diagnosis to going back to work...people tend to “forget” after the initial rush of offers to help, it’s actually later on that your friend will appreciate your offers most.

– Be mindful of taking photos and posting stuff on Facebook...not everyone tells people that they are having treatment or wants their new appearance plastered across the internet...it’s their choice when and if that happens

– Be ready to listen – your friend might want to talk about what’s happening to them (they might not). Ask questions. It’s ok...your friend will often be the expert on their cancer.

– Your friend’s partner...check up on them too...it’s a flipping scary and often helpless place to be – having to be upbeat and “I’m ok” on the outside but falling apart on the inside.

– Be ready to talk about death – a cancer diagnosis doesn’t always have a happy ending. Your friend may not have a great prognosis, but they still have a life to live. Make it quality. Do mad stuff. Talk about it, if they want to.

Find out more about secondary breast cancer here.

SEE MORE: Sompting man sentenced to 16 years in prison for raping two women in Brighton

New website launched by MP brings together all the mental health services available in Shoreham, Lancing and Worthing

Parents defend Worthing school facing potential changes at public meeting