5 Things Never To Say To A Cancer Patient


Often I am asked  what we should say to someone with cancer.   One person suggested I simply write a script for everyone.  Yikes!  Much easier said than done.  For you see, everyone is different and all of us humans feel different on different days.  So, with all the differences in there (pun intentional), it is hard to write one thing that would work for everyone.  That being said, there are a few things that really don’t work.  So instead of discussing what to say, let’s discuss what NOT to say!

  • DON’T WORRY, YOUR HAIR WILL GROW BACK:  So, there are a lot of challenges with this sentiment.  First and foremost, it might not grow back.  See, if we don’t get better, well our hair won’t…well you see our concern.  Though, of course, we won’t tell you that is crossing our mind.  Secondly, the loss of our hair is such a visual indicator of how sick we really are.  Even if it does grow back someday, when we look in the mirror now, all we see is sickness.  And finally, as we go through cancer, we live one day at a time.  If it is to grow back it will be long after treatments and we have a hard time processing that right now, we simply need to get through today.
  • WHAT CAN I DO?  We know your sentiment is pure, you really want to help us.  The challenge here is that once you ask us what you can do, you have placed the burden on us.  Now, we have to come up with something that would be helpful, that will make you feel good.  As tired as we are, that is just too much work for us!  So, our advice, don’t ask, just tell us:  you will be stopping by tomorrow to clean our the bathroom, to pick up our grocery list, to take us to an appointment.
  • THANK HEAVENS YOUR CANCER IS… (SMALL, A CERTAIN TYPE, ETC.) :  There really is no thanking heavens for the cancer at all.  We know you are trying to be positive and hopeful.  However, we can’t get past the point of “I have cancer”.  It doesn’t matter the size, the type, the success rate; the fact is “I have cancer”, and because of that life is forever changed.
  • YOU MUST GO SEE DR “ABC” or it corollary YOU HAVE TO GO TO “XYZ” HOSPITAL:  Of course we know you have our best interests in mind.  However, the challenge here is that you are suggesting our doctors, our hospital, our care providers are not good enough, which causes great doubt in us.  One very important indicator of a successful cancer outcome is trust in the doctors and care providers.  So, while you are trying to be helpful, you are actually planting seeds of doubt.  Of course, if we were just diagnosed and are asking your opinion please offer it.  But, saying we are at the wrong place while we are in the midst of treatment is simply not helpful.
  • OH, I KNOW ALL ABOUT FATIGUE, I HAVE BEEN SO TIRED LATELY MYSELF:  Here is the thing, unless you have really and truly had fatigue, you do not know.  We understand, you are trying to relate, to share that you identify with what we are going through.  But, fatigue is such a different animal from being tired that we can hardly put what it is into words.   But, we do know that fatigue is very, very different from being tired.

Without a doubt, we know you are trying to help.  In fact, most of the sentiments expressed are because you are trying to relate to us during this time.  No doubt that the relating is hard, especially if you have not experienced cancer yourself.   I have identified a few things that are probably best not shared.  But, I know there are more, so let me stop here and let’s have you chime in!  What do wish people would NOT say?