When Someone You Love Has Cancer

Note from Christa: I wish I would have had this book when my mother died of brain cancer at the age of 58, my father died of lymphoma at the age of 66, my friend Todd of cancer of the esophagus at age 24, Don of a brain tumor at the age of 58…

Cec’s book is not one of those gift books with generic landscape watercolors and unsatisfying platitudes that you give to people when you have no idea what to say or do. His book is beautifully illustrated by Michael Sparks, and it’s honestly and thoughtfully written by Cec to minister to those who need to minister to their loved ones. There’s an appendix with practical tips for the now and the later.

This book will be a blessing to those who need its comfort.

A Word from The Man Behind the Words by Cecil Murphey
When Shirley walked in from the garage, she didn’t have to say a word: I read the diagnosis in her eyes. I grabbed her and held her tightly for several seconds. When I released her, she didn’t cry. The unshed tears glistened, but that was all.

I felt emotionally paralyzed and helpless, and I couldn’t understand my reaction. After all, I was a professional. As a former pastor and volunteer hospital chaplain I had been around many cancer patients. I’d seen people at their lowest and most vulnerable. As a writing instructor, I helped one woman write her cancer-survival book. Shirley and I had been caregivers for Shirley’s older sister for months before she died of colon cancer.

All of that happened before cancer became personal to me–before my wife learned she needed a mastectomy. To make it worse, Shirley was in the high-risk category because most of her blood relatives had died of some form of cancer. Years earlier, she had jokingly said, “In our family we grow things.”

In the days after the diagnosis and before her surgery, I went to a local bookstore and to the public library. I found dozens of accounts, usually by women, about their battle and survival. I pushed aside the novels that ended in a person’s death. A few books contained medical or technical information. I searched on-line and garnered useful information–but I found nothing that spoke to me on how to cope with the possible loss of the person I loved most in this world.

Our story ends happily: Shirley has started her tenth year as a cancer survivor. Not only am I grateful, but I remember my pain and confusion during those days. That concerns me enough to reach out to others who also feel helpless as they watch a loved one face the serious diagnosis of cancer.

That’s why I wrote When Someone You Love Has Cancer. I want to encourage relatives and friends and also to offer practical suggestions as they stay at the side of those they love.

The appendix offers specific things for them to do and not to do–and much of that information came about because of the way people reacted around us.

It’s a terrible situation for anyone to have cancer; it’s a heavy burden for us who deeply love those with cancer.

The World Health Organization reported that by the year 2010 cancer will be the number one killer worldwide. More than 12.4 million people in the world suffer from cancer. 7.6 million people are expected to die from some form of cancer. That’s a lot of people, but the number of loved ones of cancer sufferers is far greater. What do they do when a special person in their life is diagnosed with this devastating disease?

Murphey brings his experiences as a loved one and many years of wisdom gained from being a pastor and hospital chaplain to his newest book When Someone You Love Has Cancer: Comfort and Encouragement for Caregivers and Loved Ones (Harvest House Publishers). His honest I’ve-been-there admissions and practical helps are combined with artist Michal Sparks’ soothing watercolor paintings.

Readers of When Someone You Love Has Cancer will receive:

  • Inspiration to seek peace and understanding in their loved one’s situation
  • Help in learning the importance of active listening
  • Guidance in exploring their own feelings of confusion and unrest
  • Suggestions on how to handle anxiety and apprehension
  • Honest answers to questions dealing with emotions, exhaustion, and helplessness
  • Spirit-lifting thoughts for celebrating the gift of life in the midst of troubles

Murphey explains why this is a much-needed book: “Most books about cancer address survivors. I want to speak to the mates, families, and friends who love those with cancer.  I offer a number of simple, practical things people can do for those with cancer.”

Interview Questions

1.    The first sentence of your book reads, “I felt helpless.” Tell us about that feeling.

Because her doctor put Shirley into the high-risk category, I felt helpless. To me, helpless means hating the situation, wanting to make it better, but admitting there was nothing I could do for her.

2.     On that same page you also write, “One thing we learned: God was with us and strengthened us through the many weeks of uncertainty and pain.”  How did you get from feeling helpless to that assurance?

Shirley and I sat down one day and I put my arm around her. “The only way I know how I can handle this,” I said, “is to talk about it.” Shirley knows that’s my way of working through puzzling issues. “Let’s consider every possibility.” If her surgeon decided she did not have breast cancer, how would we react? We talked of our reaction if he said, “There is a tumor and it’s obviously benign. Finally, I was able to say, with tears in my eyes, “How do we react if he says the cancer is advanced and you have only a short time to live?” By the time we talked answered that question, I was crying. Shirley had tears in her eyes, but remained quite calm. “I’m ready to go whenever God wants to take me,” she said. She is too honest not to have meant those words. As I searched her face, I saw calmness and peace. I held her tightly and we prayed together. After that I felt calm. Since then, one of the first things I do when I awaken is to thank God that Shirley and I have at least one more day together.

3.     When most people hear the word cancer applied to someone they love, they have strong emotional reactions. What are some of them? What was your reaction when your wife was diagnosed with breast cancer?

As a pastor, a volunteer chaplain, and a friend I’ve encountered virtually every emotional reaction. Some refuse to accept what they hear. Some go inward and are unable to talk. Others start making telephone calls to talk to friends.

Me? I went numb, absolutely numb. That was my old way of dealing with overwhelming emotions. I heard everything but I couldn’t feel anything. It took me almost two weeks before I was able to feel–and to face the possibility that the person I loved most in the world might die.

4. “What can I do for my loved one with cancer?” That’s a good question for us to ask ourselves. How can we be supportive and helpful?

Many think they need to do big things; they don’t. Express your concern and your love.

Be available to talk when the other person needs it–and be even more willing to be silent if your loved one doesn’t want to talk. Don’t ask what you can do; do what you see needs doing. To express loving support in your own way (and we all express love differently) is the best gift you can offer.

5.    Why do you urge people not to say, “I know exactly how you feel”?

No one knows how you feel. They may remember how they felt at a certain time. Even if they did know, what help is that to the person with cancer? It’s like saying, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. I know what it’s like and I’m fine now.”

Instead, focus on how the loved one feels. Let him or her tell you.

6.   Those with cancer suffer physically and spiritually. You mention God’s silence as a form of spiritual suffering. They pray and don’t seem to sense God. What can you do to help them?

God is sometimes silent but that doesn’t mean God is absent. In my upcoming book, When God Turns off the Lights, I tell what it was like for me when God stopped communicating for about 18 months.

I didn’t like it and I was angry. I didn’t doubt God’s existence, but I didn’t understand the silence. I read Psalms and Lamentations in various translations. I prayed and I did everything I could, but nothing changed.

After a couple of months, I realized that I needed to accept the situation and wait for God to turn on the lights again. Each day I quoted Psalm 13:1: “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?” (NLT)

I learned many invaluable lessons about myself–and I could have learned them only in the darkness. When God turns off the lights (and the sounds) I finally realized that instead of God being angry, it was God’s loving way to draw me closer.

7.     Guilt troubles many friends and loved ones of caregivers because they feel they failed or didn’t do enough. What can you say to help them?

We probably fail our loved ones in some ways. No one is perfect. If you feel that kind of guilt, I suggest 3 things:

(1) Tell the loved one and ask forgiveness.

(2) Talk to God and ask God to forgive you and give you strength not to repeat your failures.

(3) Forgive yourself. And one way to do that is to say, “At the time, I thought I did the right thing. I was wrong and I forgive myself.”

8.    Do you have some final words of wisdom for those giving care to a loved one with cancer?

Be available. You can’t take away the cancer but you can alleviate the sense of aloneness. Don’t ever try to explain the reason the person has cancer. We don’t know the reason and even if we did, would it really help the other person?

Be careful about what you say. Too often visitors and friends speak from their own discomfort and forget about the pain of the one with cancer. Don’t tell them about your cancer or other disease; don’t tell them horror stories about others. Above all, don’t give them false words of comfort. Be natural. Be yourself. Behave as loving as you can.


About the Author: Cecil Murphey is an international speaker and bestselling author who has written more than 100 books, including the New York Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper). No stranger himself to loss and grieving, Cecil has served as a pastor and hospital chaplain for many years, and through his ministry and books he has brought hope and encouragement to countless people around the world. For more information, visit http://www.themanbehindthewords.com/.

Something Extra!


Cec designed the appendix to be the most practical part of the book. He’s witnessed too many situations where genuinely caring people had no idea what to do, so he has tried to givea few general guidelines.

1. Before you offer help. Learn about the disease before you visit. Determine to accept their feelings, no matter how negative. Pray for your loved one before you visit. Don’t throw religious slogans at them, such as, “This is God’s will” or “God knew you were strong enough to handle this.”

2. What you can do now. As the first question, don’t ask, “How are you?” Instead, ask, “Do you feel like talking.” Don’t offer advice. Be willing to sit in silence. If you need to cry, do so. Be natural. If appropriate, hug your loved one. Human touch is powerful.

3. Long-term caregiving. The overarching principle is to let the seriousness of the disease determine the amount of time and commitment you offer. This can be a time for you to help them spiritually. Think about tangible things you can do that say you care. Plan celebrations for every anniversary of being cancer free.

Ask them reflective questions such as:

  • What have you discovered about yourself through this experience?
  • What have you learned about relationships?
  • How has your faith in God changed?




One lucky commenter on the blog with the most comments will be eligible for this generous prize basket:
GRAND PRIZE


The Grand Prize Winner Will Receive:

When Someone You Love Has Cancer
90 Minutes in Heaven (hard cover)
Heaven Is Real (hard cover)
Daily Devotions Inspired by 90 Minutes in Heaven (hard cover)
90 Minutes in Heaven, gift edition (selections)
90 Minutes in Heaven, audio (5 CD set)
Heaven Is Real, audio (6 CDs)
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story
Think Big
Everybody Loved Roger Harden
Everybody Wanted Room 623
Everybody Called Her a Saint
Committed But Flawed
Immortality of Influence (hard cover)
Touchdown Alexander (hard cover)
Aging Is an Attitude
My Parents, My Children: Spiritual Help for Caregivers

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6 thoughts on “When Someone You Love Has Cancer

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this information. When someone you love has cancer it changes your life as well as theirs’. As a former pastor’s wife so many times I longed for words of comfort, encouragement and even prayers for ill friends and family members. I know Cecil Murphey’s book will be a great help to the many of us who’ve lived with and love cancer patients.
    Thank you so much sharing this review.

  2. What an awesome book. Most people, including myself, don’t know what to say at a time of difficult diagnosis, cancer, in this case. You have such wonderful insights of how to minister to the person as well as helping the person think through deeper things as they go through it. I currently have a neighbor going through cancer treatment, and possibly a second. I love books that help me learn and be empathetic.

  3. Thank you so much for your wonderful review! I could certainly use this book now as my husband was recently diagnosed with cancer and is now undergoing radiation treatments. Thanks again! Your reviews are a blessing! Sylvia bbort10356@aol.com

  4. I AM in an EXTREMELY ROUGH SITUATION. I CAME TO THIS WEBSITE TO ASK/PLEAD FOR PRAYER FOR ME. AM AWAITING SURGERY (HOPEFULLY! MY CLINIC IS TRYING TO GET THIS PAID FOR VIA CHARITIES, WHICH MY DOCTOR SAYS IS ALMOST CERTAIN……AM IN HUGE HORRIFIC PAIN EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY AND NIGHT……..THAT IS NECROSIS OF THE HIP AND SCIATICA AND R.A. (RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS)…MUCH MORE…….I HAVE BEEN TAUGHT WHEN YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT TO DO AND THINGS ARE HORRIBLE…….TO HELP SOMEONE ELSE. PLEASE TELL ME SOMEONE …A STRANGER TO PRAY FOR, IF YOU WOULD…….I AM IN BAD SHAPE YET DETERMINED TO NOT GIVE UP IN ANYWAY. I NEED GUIDANCE AND AM STARTING RIGHT HERE……LET ME KNOW ABOUT A STRANGER, PLEASE…………TO PRAY FOR!!! THANK YOU PLEASE WRITE ME AND LET ME KNOW. GOD BLESS YOU & YOURS…….IN JESUS NAME….
    SHELLEY CURTIS
    (970) 692 9843 CELL

  5. It’s a good book and Piper should be congratulated for sharing his Near Death Experience. Only readers should be aware of one serious mistake he makes in the book which is to jump from hearing songs praising Jesus and meeting fellow Christians in heaven to religious fundamentalism. Research of Near Death Experiences show that there is no evidence to support that heaven is exclusively for Christians, or a narrow interpretation of the Bible, as experiences of heaven happen in all cultures and religions. Cross cultural studies of Near Death Experiences show that the Golden Rule truly means that we must love our neighbor – even if this person is of another faith – and “hell” is not something we can simply throw around when we disagree with people. If you have not fallen asleep in Christ, or simply use reason as well, and want to know what people who have Near Death Experiences truly experience in Heaven, have a look at my book Behind 90 Minutes in Heaven.

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