What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

We asked, you answered! While most people mean well and have great intentions, finding the right words to say to a cancer patient can be challenging. Here are some tips, directly from cancer survivors on our Facebook page, on certain phrases and expressions that may not come across as helpful.

  • “Really you have cancer? You don't look that sick.”
  • "Just live in the moment."
  •  “I read about this new diet that cures cancer!”
  • “I know you will get better!”
  • “I know what you’re going through. My dog had cancer.”
  • “I can’t stop worrying about you.” Please don’t add another burden to my already heavy heart!
  • "So very sorry to hear that-- I like working with you!" Just got that one yesterday. What?!!
  • "My _______ died of cancer."
  • “I know someone who had the same type of cancer and they just had a recurrence." Not what I want to hear. Ever.
  • “Oh, that’s the good cancer. It’s so curable.”
  • “You’re so strong and brave! I could never go through what you’re going through.” Please remember I don’t have a choice.
  •  “Why are you letting her eat that? It feeds the cancer cells.”
  • “Is it contagious...?”
  • "How did that happen?"
  • “If you didn't know he has cancer and you met him you would never know it!!! He looks so healthy!!!” But they don't see all the bad days.
  • “Is it bad?”
  • “You should have been eating organic.”
  • “Are you a smoker? Did you quit?”
  • "I hope that I don't get it!!!!" Please realize that we have cancer, not cooties.
  • Please stop just saying "Let me know if there's anything I can do" and then leaving it at that. Rather, you can call them & ask “What specifically do you need done?” Better yet, call from the grocery store, “Do you need anything from the store?”
  • "You really should exercise and eat better!!"
  • "WOW, did they remove your breasts?"
  •  “I know so & so who had the same type of cancer and they were just fine!” ...or any variation of cancer stories.
  • "You need to get chemo and surgery but not radiation." You're not my doctor. 
  • “You don’t have it as bad as ____.” Please do not compare stories.

And some tips on what you SHOULD do and say:

  • I just want to be treated like everyone else, included like everyone else as much as possible so that I can feel as close to normal as possible. No sugar coating it just honesty, friendship and love.
  • How about just acknowledging that cancer is just plain horrible, period!!!!!
  • Just OFFER to do something specific, could be any idea, just offer to do something!!!!!They will say yes or they will then feel comfortable actually asking for something they do need!

Please remember these are just opinions, but they may be helpful if you are struggling with finding the appropriate words to say to a loved one or acquaintance!