Just Don’t. Five Things You Shouldn’t Say to a Cancer Patient

Apple a Day Blog | June 15, 2017

It’s hard to know what to say to a loved one undergoing cancer treatment. Even well-intentioned words can take on a different meaning for someone fighting cancer.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Cheryl Beatrice offers these 5 examples of things not to say to someone who has cancer so you can avoid putting your foot in your mouth.

  1. “I’ve been so worried about you.” While this expression of sympathy is meant to be supportive, it can unintentionally make a patient feel guilty about the negative impact their illness is having on others. Instead, try showing your concern through action. Offer to drive your loved one to doctor and treatment appointments, drop off meals and groceries, or offer to clean their home so that they can get some much-needed rest.
  2. “Everything happens for a reason.” Cancer patients often go through the stages of grief following their diagnosis. Telling a cancer patient there is a reason for their illness could spark both anger and confusion. Avoid common clichés and expressions.
  3. “My ______ died from cancer.” Hearing that someone else lost their battle to cancer is extremely discomforting. Remember that every cancer case is different. One patient’s treatment outcome is never indicative of another’s. Stick with optimistic talk about a patient’s strength and ability to fight the disease and stop comparing them to others that you once knew. It may be possible that your loved one or friend is aware of the family member or friend who died from cancer. If he or she brings it up, be prepared to acknowledge the information (if correct) and reiterate the uniqueness of every individuals’ battle.
  4. “My ______ had cancer; but it was worse than yours.” Every type of cancer can be serious, and frightening. Saying that one person’s cancer is worse than another’s can feel demeaning, and may make a patient feel that their fear or anxiety is unfounded.
  5. “I know how you feel.” Every patient’s experience will be different in one way or another. Even though it seems like a nice thing to say, it is not possible to really know how someone else is feeling or what they are going through.

Instead of talking, sometimes simply listening to your friend or loved one is one of the most important things you can do for him or her. Let them do the talking, when and if they want to. If they don’t feel comfortable speaking to you, try not to allow yourself to feel hurt. Offer to help them find other resources like a cancer support group, or therapist who specializes in chronic or serious illness.

Click here to learn what to say to someone with cancer.

To top