What to Say, or Not Say, to Someone Who Has Cancer
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Talking to someone you care about who has cancer can feel
awkward. Here are some tips to help you:
Some things you might say:
- I'm sorry this has happened to you. I care about you very
- May I give you a hug?
- Do you want to talk about it?
- My prayers and thoughts will be with you and your family
- I'm not sure I'm saying this the right way, but I want you to
- What are you feeling?
- I will be with you and support you during this difficult
- What do you think the Packers chances are for next year? (talk
about things they are interested in)
- I've been wondering how you've been feeling?
- I'm free on Tuesday afternoon. Can I help you by…?
- Driving to appointments, cooking a meal, shoveling snow, taking
care of the garden, giving rides to the kids, etc.
- Offer something specific. They are probably overwhelmed with
decisions about health care, fears, concern for themselves and
their family not day-to-day matters.
- If you really want to help, sit down, take a couple minutes,
and think about what might help them most.
- Can I come over to visit? - Suggest a time but be flexible and
sensitive to side effects due to their treatment such as nausea or
fatigue. Follow through and plan the next visit too!
Heard, not told
Dependability, not promises
Involved, not avoided
Love, Love, Love
Be cautious with the following:
- How are you? How are you feeling? - Broad questions might be
too much for someone overwhelmed with worries. Try something more
- It will get better. I'm sure you will be fine. I don't think
you need to worry! - You might be denying their very real fears and
worries with these questions causing them to withdraw or shut down
communication. Your intention is good, but it may suggest that you
don't want to talk about the cancer anymore.
- I know how you feel - Really?? Do you? It would be better to
ask them what they are feeling and then listen carefully
- At least your cancer is only… - This is another way of denying
their fears and worries. They don't want any cancer.
- Why do you think you got this cancer? - This could reinforce
the guilt they might already have about getting cancer. Better to
talk about the hope of the future than possible guilt from the
- I had a good friend who died from that cancer. - This
probably gets said out of your own fear and suggests that you
already know everything they will be going through. It can heighten
the fears and worries the cancer survivor already has. Your friend
would prefer to hear a story of hope and survival.
Compiled by Chris Mings, Calumet County Relay For Life
Volunteer. Includes ideas and suggestions from The American Cancer
Society and Lori Hope, author of Help Me Live: 20 Things People
With Cancer Want You to Know at lorihope.com.