I know a woman, 45, who has had breast cancer. She is an intelligent and honest woman. One of the things she's been forthright about is her cancer, which occurred four years ago. But whenever she brings up the topic, I've never quite known what to say. Mostly I just stand there, struck dumb -- in both senses of the term.
I spent last weekend at a masters swimming meet, and was chatting with her and another woman, 63, when the 45-year-old mentioned to the other woman that she had had breast cancer. Without missing a beat, the 63-year-old said, "Good for you!"
That comment, at first blush, makes absolutely no sense. But it turned out to be exactly the right thing to say: upon hearing it, the 45-year-old immediately and visibly brightened.
I suppose the comment may have been shorthand for, "Good for you that you beat cancer," and that makes perfect sense. But I think the impact of the older woman's statement came mostly from her body language. She said it unhesitatingly, and in a very encouraging and reassuring tone. With that delivery, she could have said "Garfalagoozygoop" and it probably would have made the younger woman feel better.
Body language is everything.
An aside: I have been referring to the 63-year-old by her age, but she is one of the best-looking women -- of any age -- I've seen recently. (The miracle of masters swimming.) My initial response upon first being introduced to her was just pure physical attraction.
Rest assured, her compassionate personality had zero to do with that reaction; I'm far too superficial for that.