Client Health

How to Support a Client With Cancer

It’s hard to know the etiquette for supporting a client — or coworker — in her battle against cancer.

It’s hard to know the etiquette for supporting a client — or coworker — in her battle against cancer. “It’s OK to wonder, and it’s OK to ask. Be direct,” says Jane Schwartzberg, who has been battling stage-4 metastatic cancer for several years. She’s the co-author with Marcy Tolkoff Levy of “Naked Jane Bares All” (, which shares her story with candor and humor.

Schwartzberg offers these suggestions for providing support:

> Do it without any expectations or requirements for a response. I’m often asked, “What can I do to help?” What I’ve suggested: Be in my life at my pace; let me take the lead. Make your presence, availability, and support known, but without any expectations or requirements for a response.

> Embrace their big dream, even if it doesn’t sound realistic. During a very low point, I was asked by a friend, “If you could have anything, swinging for the fences, what would help you get out of this pit?” Without skipping a beat, I answered, “I want to take [comedian] Larry David out to lunch.” As impossible as it seemed, my friend encouraged me to write to the co-creator of “Seinfeld” — and he accepted. As terrible as having terminal cancer is, there is that undeniable quality of embracing every moment.

> Don’t hesitate to say, “You look beautiful,” when health has returned. After my chemotherapy treatments ended, I slowly started looking like my old self. Part of reengaging with life is caring about the superficial things, at least to some extent.

> Don’t sugarcoat it. If you want to really infuriate me, you’ll tell me that this whole mess is “meant to be” — that it’s all part of a plan from a higher power. Maybe terminal cancer is part of some crazy plan, but I promise you these are the last things I want to hear from anyone. Don’t try to put a positive spin on what’s going on — in fact, it’s more of a comfort when others acknowledge that my situation stinks and that I am looking at a life that’s far different from, and likely to be shorter than, anything I’d imagined.

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