What to Say (and NOT Say) to Someone With Cancer.

When my dad was diagnosed with Lung Cancer, people came out of the woodwork to show support. And in those moments I can promise you that we needed that love and encouragement so badly.  

But, there were also a few times when the conversations got really uncomfortable. 

Like the day, when a friend of the family came to the house and spent an hour and a half preaching to us about how eliminating all of the sugar from his diet would cure the cancer.  (In case you’ve had a similar conversation about sugar, that’s not true).  

It was seriously uncomfortable… like I want to jump out the window and leave my own house uncomfortable.  

There was no good way to respond to that.  We just sat there, staring while this person basically went off about sugar.

Thankfully, my dad was a master at these kinds of situations.  He just smiled and nodded politely while sipping on his milkshake.  

What to Say to Someone With Cancer.

Older woman hugging someone she loves- text overlay says  What to say (and NOT say) to someone who has cancer.

It’s hard to know what to say when someone has cancer.  First of all, It’s a huge shock with some pretty terrifying possible outcomes.  

The emotions that are involved in a diagnosis like this are exactly like the roller coaster from hell, that you can’t get off of.  

But what makes it worse is the awkwardness.  Suddenly people you have loved your whole life have no idea what to say or do and in some cases totally avoid you because they don’t know how to respond.

Here’s the thing that EVERYONE should know.  The families going through this don’t know what to say or how to deal with this either.  They’re just surviving moment to moment and they need all of the love and support they can get.

Cancer is a tough deal.  It’s okay if you don’t know what to say.  Neither do we. And, we don’t need you to say anything.  It just helps to know you’re still there.  When we need comfort, encouragement or just to unload all of this stuff, we need someone to be there.  

Keep It Easy and NORMAL.

Women Laughing together acting normal

We get it, it’s awkward. Without question, a cancer diagnosis is one of the most difficult situations to navigate.  We get that you don’t know what to say.  The truth is, we don’t know what to say either.  But here’s the thing.  

We are the exact same people we were yesterday.  Now we just have this terrifying situation looming over our heads.  It sucks.  The whole situation sucks.  Say that.  

We’re scared, we have no idea what’s about to happen, and the anxiety that comes with this is off the charts.  Just try to keep things as easy and as normal as possible.  

Act the same way today that you did yesterday.  Laugh with us. Tell us something ridiculous to temporarily distract from the looming issue at hand.  Or, just listen, without judgment or advice.  Just be there.  That’s really all we need.   

Leave the Pity at Home.

Two women talking about a difficult situation, friends showing love and support.

Leave the pity at home.  There’s NOTHING worse than people that you love looking at you like you have no shot at this, or you are already dead.  

There is a huge difference between being empathetic, sad, or emotional about the situation and feeling bad for someone.  We need hope and fire.  We need people to believe that we can do this.

The last thing we need is extra doubt or people feeling sorry for us.  That’s exactly what pity feels like.  Like you’re essentially saying “awww… you basically have no shot at this, but you’re trying anyway.”  

Even if that’s not how you mean it, trust me that’s how it comes across.

Heads Up!  If you’re drowning in the overwhelm of a cancer diagnosis, we can help you SIMPLIFY the complicated issues that come with cancer.  
Finding the best care, finding resources that will actually help, dealing with the fear, anxiety, and overwhelm.
You can get the Cancer Combat Plan FREE here…

Make Them Laugh.

Laughter is great medicine. It reduces stress, it naturally makes you feel better, and it makes things feel a bit lighter and lifts your spirits.  Just feeling happier and lighter makes you feel better.

The world in general needs more laughter, but you definitely need that when cancer explodes into your world.

Say Something Encouraging.

close up image of women talking and encouraging each other.

Encourage people, always. 

Give them love and hope and make them feel like this is possible.

That’s half the battle with this disease because it’s terrifying and the future feels so uncertain.  So even when the scenario isn’t grim and everything is going to be fine, it doesn’t feel like it because you have no idea what to expect.

Hope is what keeps you going.  If you lose that… things get really bad 

And the beginning before you even know anything is THE WORST.  You have no idea what you’re dealing with or before you have any kind of plan… you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop and your mind is playing out the most terrifying scenarios ever.

So, how do you encourage people who are scared out of their minds, have no idea what to expect, and are planning for the worst?

It’s hard to know what to say to someone without giving them “false hope.”

So, What Should You Say?

  •  I’m sorry you’re going through this.  NO ONE should have to deal with this, ever.  Cancer sucks. 
  • They have made huge advances in how they treat cancer.  They can do incredible things today to fight this disease. 
  • I’m not saying it will be a cakewalk, but you can do this.  The truth is, no one but God knows what is actually going to happen here.
  • The doctors found something, they want to take a closer look, so now you’re in the perfect position to deal with this thing, head-on.  And kick its ass. (you may prefer a different word).
  •   I can’t wait to get that phone call where you tell me you beat this thing. 
  • You can do this.  (That’s HUGE) No one chooses to take on a battle of this magnitude, and yet here they are with no choice.  (We kind of naturally doubt our own abilities to be amazing or even have the strength to deal with something like this… Sometimes just having someone else believe in your ability to be amazing is exactly what you need). 

You can do this, you’ve got this, you’re gonna rock this, you’re gonna beat this, screw cancer are all encouraging things to say to families going through this… 

Hope and encouragement are such a huge part of being in the mindset to tackle this thing.  If you just provide hope and encouragement that they can do this, you’ll be helping tremendously.

Don’t Be Pushy.  

Woman hugging her crying girlfriend, supporting her after receiving bad news

We all have strong beliefs when it comes to certain things.  For me personally, I am STRONG ADVOCATE of being seen at a specialized cancer treatment center because…

  • Specialized treatment centers are usually located in populated areas (large cities) which means that they are working with thousands of patients (as opposed to the smaller numbers that are being treated in local, smaller communities).
  • The doctors are specialized in your specific type of cancer, rather than knowing a little bit about several different types of cancer, they only focus on their specialty.  As my husband’s doctor put it the first time we met him, my team and I only work with your type of cancer.  All day, every day.    If you’re immersed in something all day every day, you’re bound to get pretty good at it.
  • They focus on other aspects of care, as well. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, pain management… having everyone connected and working together is a HUGE benefit of a specialized cancer center.
  • A specialized cancer treatment center may be able to offer a clinical trial that’s not available at a smaller, local oncologist’s office. Clinical trials are a huge deal because they are the research and testing that are helping to make huge advancements in treatment, life span, quality of life, etc.  

(FYI, in case you want it, there is a full list of specialized treatment centers here…)

So, even though I feel incredibly strongly about specialized cancer centers, it’s not my place to push that decision on someone else.  I will share my knowledge if asked (and sometimes people do ask because we’ve now had 7 family members diagnosed with cancer at this point, and we have way more experience than anyone should!).  

But ultimately, it’s the person with the diagnosis who needs to make the choice of where they want to go.  

They just need someone to talk to.  And they don’t expect you to “get it” unless you’ve been there. 

It’s okay if you don’t.  Just let them talk and try to keep things as normal as possible.

What Not To Say.

Woman showing support to her friend with cancer.
  • Don’t talk about conspiracy theories (you know… there actually is a cure, big cover-up, no one wants you to know…  That’s not helpful, at all.)
  • Don’t educate them on all of the natural cures you’ve heard about (removing all sugar from their diet, or the melon you read about with special healing properties). ****Let the doctors handle the treatment and cure conversations.

Supportive things you can say.

  • You can do this.
  • I miss you.
  • I wish we were doing XYZ instead of stressing about this nonsense.
  • This place sucks without you. (great for co-workers, gym friends, friends you attend meetings with)
  • Remember when…
  • Favorite memories.
  • Talk about normal things.
  • I’m always thinking about you.
  • No one should have to go through this.
  • This whole situation sucks.
  • Share something you love about them.
  • Share something you love about their personality.
  • Something happened the other day that made me think of you
  • Let them know what they mean to you.
  • How much it means to have them in your life.
  • I’m sorry you’re going through this.  NO ONE should have to deal with this, ever.  Cancer sucks. 
  • They have made huge advances in how they treat cancer.  They can do incredible things today to fight this disease. 
  • I’m not saying it will be a cakewalk, but you can beat this thing.  The truth is, no one but God knows what is actually going to happen here.
  • The doctors found something, they want to take a closer look, so now you’re in the perfect position to deal with this thing, head-on.  And kick its ass. (you may prefer a different word).
  • I can’t wait to get that phone call where you tell me you beat this thing. 

If you’re avoiding someone you love because you don’t want to say the wrong thing, we can help you navigate that.   

Sticking with encouraging messages can help your loved one stay strong and hopeful while avoiding conversations that make them feel uncomfortable.  

It’s okay if you don’t know what to say.  Being present and supportive is so much more important than saying the “right” thing.  Just show up, be easy and encouraging.  

You have no idea what that means to a family going through this.

P.S. If you have no idea how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, we can help you formulate a plan to SIMPLIFY the complicated  “stuff” that comes with this disease…  
  • Finding the best care
  • Talking with your insurance company
  • Finding resources that will actually help
  • Dealing with the fear, anxiety, and overwhelm 

We can’t control the cancer, but we CAN show you how to manage this crisis.   And it’s 100% Free. 

You can get the Cancer Combat Plan FREE here…

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