What to Say to Someone Who Has Cancer

It can be very difficult to attain the right words when considering what to say to someone who has cancer. Many individuals may have no clue of what the right or wrong thing to say is, and may be concerned about upsetting others. Whether it is a close friend, family member or someone who has less of a bond with you on a personal level, offering support, concern and encouragement will always be beneficial. In many instances, just talking, and more importantly – listening, is one of the most helpful things one can do for another when they are going through a hard time in their life.

What to Say to Someone with Cancer

Below are a few examples of what to say to someone who has cancer:

"I don't quite know what to say, but know that I love you."

Letting people know that you are lost for words is ok, and reassuring them that you love them offers valuable support.

"How are you really feeling?"

Asking individuals to explain exactly what they are going through and how they are feeling and actively listening to their response can be very beneficial. They will likely appreciate it greatly.

"We will get through this together."

Saying this reassures your family member or friend that you will be there for them every step of the way. But bear in mind one should never saying things like "I know how you feel", as it is near impossible to know how any single individual is feeling at such a scary time.

"You can do this."

Such simple reassurance can be highly empowering and remind them to remain strong, as well as assure them that they are not alone.

"You can count on me for taking you to appointments/picking up the children/cooking dinners."

Remember to state what errands you can do for them and ask if they want you to do them.

"You’re looking good today."

You should only say this if it's true. Saying things like "You look rather pale today", or "you've lost quite a bit of weight", even when true, is not helpful.

"Would you mind if I pray for you?"

This can be an extremely warm sentiment and is much better than saying things like "It's all part of God's plan", thinking that God planned to give someone cancer is not warming.

"Never worry about your work."

Only say this if you are about to pinch in or if you are the boss. Otherwise, these are empty words and only bring patients worries about work and money.

You also can say:

"You're never alone in this fight because we are going to get through together."

"This sucks. But never forget I love you."

"Please never think about giving up"

"How does the treatment/chemotherapy go?"

"I'm always here for you."

"I love you dog. Can I take a walk with her twice a week?"

"You can count on me for the groceries."

"Whatever happens, you are still the brightest star in my life."

"You must be so afraid. I'm here for you no matter when and no matter where."

Note: Sitting with your family member or friend during chemotherapy treatments is perhaps one of the most kind and supportive things one can do at this time. Always look the person in the eye to establish a connection and to ensure that they do not feel rejected when conversing with an individual who has cancer, 

Rules to Follow When Talking to Say to Someone Who Has Cancer

There are some simple rules one should adhere to when speaking to an individual with any serious illness. Below are some tips that may help you to ascertain what to say and not to say to someone with cancer.

1. Sort Out Your Own Feeling

It's common to feel sympathy for someone with a serious disease or guilty for one's own good health. In this case, the best thing you can do is to offer support which is not only helpful to the person with cancer, but also may relieve your awkwardness or uncomfortableness. You should take good care of yourself too. If the person with cancer is of your age or if you are close to that person, you may start to worry about your own health and may experience feelings like uncertainty, anxiety, anger, disbelief, sadness, fears, etc. If you can't handle all of these on your own, seek help from family members, a specialist or a support group.

2. Be Encouraging But Don't Overdo It

Whilst offering encouragement is good, it is also possible to overdo it. When considering what to say to someone who has cancer, one should try to acknowledge a person's anxiety, fears, pains, sadness, etc. Whilst telling someone to remain positive may seem beneficial, it would be better to actively try to make them more positive by taking part in conversations, trying to offer understanding, or providing all the help you could. 

3. Offer Help

There are numerous things one can do to help, including driving to appointments, running errands, collecting children from school, cleaning their home, and/or cooking dinner. Ask if any of these things would be helpful, and if they are, do them. Some people find it difficult to asking for help, so do constantly ask like "I'm here if you need any help", or just observe and do errands for them.

4. Use Humor

Many people use humor as a method of coping. Whilst laughing at someone with a serious disease is an evil endeavor, laughing with them can help to take their mind off cancer for a while and relieve the stress they feel. One should never instigate jokes or foolish mockery, but if those inflicted with the condition laugh and joke, it is ok to join them.

5. Be a Good Listener

Learning how to become a good listener is important. You must devote all of your attention to the speaker and try to comprehend what you hear. Don't bother about what to say in respond and just be a good listener. You can ask individuals questions about cancer if they would like to talk about the experience. If they do, allow them to speak, don't rush them, and let them decide how much they want to say and when they want to say it. This helps the affected person to release all the depressed feelings.

6. Talk Things Other Than Cancer

Focusing simply on cancer within a conversation is kind of overwhelming. Choosing usual and common topics not only just gives the person with cancer some distract, but also aids them maintain the balance in life. Help the affected person resume old habits and interests, and live a normal life to some extent.

7. Talk About Other's Story with Care

When thinking about what to say to someone who has cancer, sharing others' stories with someone who currently has cancer may be of no help whatsoever, as every person is different. However, letting them know that you have experienced cancer before (if you have) with a loved one or even personally can be helpful as it makes the subject relatable to both of you.

8. Respect Privacy

  • One should always allow those who have cancer to choose when or if to tell others. If you are asked, simply say "it's not my place to say, but I'll let them know you asked about them".
  • If you hear that someone has cancer, ask for the source of the information. If it is public information, offer comforts to that person is vital; or, you should just stop the transmission of the rumor or unauthorized information.
  • If someone close to you refrained from telling you about the cancer, it is important not to hold that against him or her. It can take time for someone to adjust to such a big incident in their life and be ready to tell others.

After you have learned what to say to someone who has cancer, you should learn what not to say to them: