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 much.
  • 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 know…
  • What are you feeling?
  • I will be with you and support you during this difficult time
  • 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!


Compassion, not pity Heard, not told

Comfort, not advice Dependability, not promises

Hope, not fear 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 specific.
  • 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 past.
  • 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