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What to say to someone who has cancer

It can be difficult to know what to say to a family member or friend who is going through cancer. You want to express your love and support, but finding the right words isn’t easy. Here are some things you can say that will show you care:

“I am here for you.”

“Can I help you with cooking, babysitting, walking the dog, etc.?” – Listen to what they say and then follow through and do it.

“I’m thinking about you.”

“I’m sorry you have to go through this.”

“I care about you.”

“I love you.”

“Are you up to having visitors?”

“This must be a hard thing to go through.”

“How are you feeling?”

“I would like to help in any way I can.”

If you don’t know what to say, be honest and tell them that. Your loved one will appreciate that you are reaching out to them. The worst thing you can say is nothing at all.

Here are some other dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

Do…

  • Let them know you are there for them if they need to talk.
  • Offer practical help such as assistance with chores or driving the person’s children to after-school activities.
  • Call or text them regularly to show that you care. Let them know it is fine if they cannot reply.
  • Follow the person’s cues. Don’t keep bringing up cancer if they want to talk about other subjects. Respect their privacy.
  • Continue inviting them to social activities. The person will let you know if they are not up to it.

Don’t…

  • Dismiss or minimize the person’s feelings by saying things like “don’t worry” or “everything is going to be fine.” Even if the prognosis is good, a cancer diagnosis is scary. People are allowed to feel how they feel.
  • Avoid the person. A cancer diagnosis is already isolating. Being ignored can make them feel worse.
  • Tell them cancer is a lesson or gift or “everything happens for a reason.” Cancer is a present no one wants.
  • Share your story of so-and-so who had cancer and didn’t make it or was so strong she breezed through chemo.

Each person’s cancer experience is different so there aren’t any one-size-fits-all words to say. The most important thing to remember is to focus on the person and not your own feelings. Showing compassion, kindness and support can go a long way toward helping your loved one navigate their journey.