(972) 490.8676

8 tips on what to do and say to someone with a medical challenge ➜

by | Oct 8, 2023 | 2 comments

My sister, Nina Cortell, and I on my LAST day of chemo (in 2012) followed by a pink manicure!

This post is in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“You’re a poster child for mammograms,” the radiation oncologist said to me.

“Why?”, I asked, from my seat in his bad-aqua blue treatment room.

“Because you found your breast cancer early. You’re going to be okay.”

Eleven years ago I walked into that regular annual mammogram looking pretty good and feeling great. Nine months later – after a lumpectomy, 16 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments, and 101 doctor visits – I walked out of that bad-aqua blue treatment room bald, tired and puffy.

Here’s what I have come to know

  • Embrace “Normal”. It’s not about how much money you make, or how many trips you take, or how many clients you have. It’s about being able to get up in the morning and having the luxury to do whatever is on your schedule. You get to enjoy a normal day.
  • Find the humor. I tell my clients that the definition of humor is Tragedy + Time. When I found out I was going to have chemo, I cried. Then, later, I had to chuckle. I told my husband, Jimmy, “I always thought I’d sleep with someone who’s bald, I just never thought it would be me.”
  • Maintain best practices around exercise and diet. If you’re in good shape you’re ahead of the curve when you get a challenging diagnosis.
  • Nurture your support system. My family and friends made all the difference.

Speaking professionally and personally – here are 8 communication tips to help you interact with your colleagues, clients and friends who are dealing with medical challenges like breast cancer.

  1. Do stay in touch with someone who’s going through a health issue – emails, texts, phone messages – all are great.
  2. Do NOT ask the person who’s sick to return your call or electronic message. That’s a burden.
  3. Do say or text, “You do not have to return this call/text/email.”
  4. Do NOT ask, “What can I do to help you?” Again, this is a burden.
  5. Do something that you would like someone to do for you. Options: mail a fun card (appreciated and unobtrusive), meet for a walk, wash her car, make a meal, walk the dog, drive him to a doctor appointment, bring lunch, take her to a manicure place, or make a donation in his honor. And, do tell her that she doesn’t have to write you a thank you note.
  6. Do NOT use social media as a place to share your concern unless invited. This can be a major breach of privacy.
  7. Do NOT talk about your own experiences (or the medical outcome from your brother-in-law’s mother’s aunt…) with this type of illness. You are there to hear your friend’s story, she is NOT there to hear yours.
  8. Do listen, if he wants to talk. That’s right. Just listen. Biggest gift of all.

These tips worked for me, and I hope you will use them as guidelines for you.

My annual mammogram saved my life.

Who wants to be a poster child?

Not me.

But it sure beats the alternative.

PS: Please do your annual mammogram/PSA/whatever test(s)!

PS: Write in comments below of other ways you’ve been helpful to others in a health crisis.


  1. Amy Hancock

    Excellent post! I’m going to take ALL under advisement. I’m a fellow “poster child” myself and used my knowledge (once on the other side of the challenge) to educate others and even coined my own detention phrase (which I had made and personalized on my thank you card stationary!): “Don’t be Dense About Dense Breast Tissue!” You gotta find any humor and hope in all that where you can, right?!? 😉 Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month and keep up the great work!

    • Karen Cortell Reisman

      Amy – Love this! Your comment “Humor and Hope” speaks volumes. And your great phrase, “Don’t be dense about dense breast tissue” is a keeper. Congratulations to you for being a breast cancer survivor.
      Thank you for your feedback.

Pin It on Pinterest