Finding out someone close to you has cancer is like getting the wind knocked out of you. At first you feel stunned. The very word ‘Cancer’ is enough to silence you. What do you say? What can you do? How to react? Here are 3 tips for reacting appropriately and compassionately when you find out someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer.

1. Listen

Listen first so that when it is time to talk, you can say the right thing. Everyone reacts to this terminal diagnosis differently, so before you spew out the first thoughts that come to your mind, listen to their point of view. Find out how they’re doing and how they’re dealing with it.

2. Use Non Verbal Communication

Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes a hug or just holding the person’s hand is enough to let them know that you’re truly there for them. Even if it’s hard, make eye contact so that they know you’re really hearing what they have to say. Show them with your actions how you feel if it’s too hard to speak.

3. Ask What You Can do to Help

Just letting the person know that you’re there for them can be a big comfort. The road to cancer recovery is long and dark, and nobody wants to travel it alone. You could ask what you can do to help, or you can look for a need in their life and just take care of it. Some people don’t feel comfortable asking for help, no matter how badly they need it. Take it upon yourself to find out what they need help with and surprise them by taking care of it.

No one is going to handle difficult news perfectly. We are human, with human emotions that often get in the way of rational thoughts and words. If you’re truly at a loss of words and don’t know what to say, just say you’re sorry. They’ll know what you mean.