“I heard what you went through, but you look great!” This friend meant to give me a compliment after not seeing me around town for a while. However, her kindness did not have the intended effect. After surviving grueling treatment for late stage oral cancer, where I was teetering on a tightrope between life and death, my appearance was not important. There was a good chance she would not have ever seen me again. “You look great,” focusses on the triviality of appearance without acknowledging what it took to survive cancer.

For anyone who has experienced a challenging time and is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s important to acknowledge gratitude in seeing them, hearing their voice, and maybe even sharing a hug. The slightest adjustment to the words, could have created a meaningful connection between us.

A minor change in your choice of words can make a major difference. It’s better to say, ‘It’s great to see you,’ which acknowledges me and not my appearance. After I reply with a ‘Thank you, it opens the door to talk about how difficult things were. A meaningful conversation could ensue. However, if you tell me how great I look, it has a tendency to lead to a discussion about unimportant topics like where I got my haircut or my outfit. Heck, overcoming the challenges of cancer treatment is what you really want to address after not seeing a person for months due to treatment.

Don’t worry about what to say to someone who endured cancer. Simply look them in the eye, touch their shoulder or hand, and say, “It’s great to see you.” Then, wait. There are no other words to explain more. Just be present and wait for their reply. If it doesn’t lead to a meaningful exchange, at least, they will feel your empathy.

@DeltaAirlines reiterates my sentiments:)

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