They just want to hear you say "it's ok".
And... that you will be there with them throughout the journey.
They don't want false hopes raised, neither do they want false reassurance lest they get disappointed.
Disappointment. Fear. Denial. Anger. Disbelief. Pain. Sorrow. Emotional turmoil that is all so hard to deal with, on an everyday basis.
My patients, they harp on numbers; and get so scared after their blood tests; just waiting to hear- if it goes up or down even if it's just by 0.1. They hang on to every number that is given to them, even if it fluctuates with such miniscule "absolute" changes. Their anxiety builds up with every blood test, every CT scan. You can tell when their heart is beating rapidly under your stethoscope as you listen to them.
It's nerve-wrecking; and these emotions- they're so hard on the person's psyche; both emotional and mental being- that the least we can do for them is to comfort when we can, easy any disappointments, reassure with reasonable expectations, hold their hands - and be there with them.
What I found so inspiring from watching my attending today; was that the first thing he said to my patient who was just diagnosed with cancer, was to stop beating herself up.
"It's nothing you did or did not do, no one has answers, it just happens. It can happen to the best of people who watch what they eat, who work out religiously, who do everything by the book- but it just happens. No one knows why, but it is time to stop beating yourself."
And I thought that was what each and every one of my patients needed to hear, from the very beginning - to ease the process of dealing with the diagnosis of cancer. Realizing that they had no control over this disease diagnosis, that it was not their fault in any way, that it is time to let go of hurting themselves in the process of finding fault or blame .... (which usually ends up being on them)
Which reminds me of one of my earlier heme/onc fellowship application interviews; where one of my interviewers told me that our job is to essentially
"hold their hands throughout it all, til the very end"
I am here with you, and all I want for you is for you to have the best chances of the best outcomes possible, and the best attainable quality of life. That is my job, my hope, my responsibility.