Things you shouldn’t say to a cancer patient

When someone close to you, a friend or even just an acquaintance is diagnosed with cancer it can be hard to know what to say. You want to say the right thing, but what if it comes out wrong? You want to be there for them, but how? If you’re supporting someone with cancer but you are stuck for words, sometimes admitting, “I don’t know what to say” can be the best way forward.

When I was diagnosed back in 2014 most people didn’t know what to say or just said the wrong thing. Hopefully if you know someone going through treatment right now then this will help. So here’s a list of things you shouldn’t say to a cancer patient..

“THINGS WILL GET BETTER”

Okay. This was probably one of the worst things that was said to me. I know things will get better but right now I’m losing my hair, being pumped full of drugs and really don’t want to hear it. I’m just trying to fight for my life..

“HAVE YOU TRIED ALTERNATIVE TREATMENTS”

The MOST annoying thing ever. People asking if you have thought about alternative treatments or natural remedies. Just NO. When you are going through cancer you don’t want to hear about vitamins and oils that could cure cancer.

“YOU DON’T LOOK SICK”

Another personal favourite. A lot of people don’t “look” like they have cancer but just because you can’t see the side effects of the cancer or treatment doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

“HOW ARE YOU FEELING?”

It’s a perfectly fine question but when asked every hour or so it can get annoying. I know people can mean well but I’m not going to be feeling good for at last six months.

“I FEEL SICK TOO”

Please don’t complain about how sick you are to me. I’m so sorry that you have a cold, or are struggling with being tired. Really, I am.

“I HOPE THIS IS OVER FOR YOU SOON”

Yes, someone actually said this to me. Cancer will stay with me for the rest of my life so no it won’t be over for me soon..

“YOU HAVE THE GOOD KIND OF CANCER”

First things first there is NO good cancer. Nobody enjoys being poisoned every week and losing clumps of hair every time you wake up. Also if you didn’t know chemo and radiation give you a higher chance of developing a secondary cancer.

“I KNOW SOMEONE WHO DIED OF THAT”

Another no, no. Please don’t share a cancer story with a bad outcome. It’s probably the last thing a person going through treatment wants to hear. 

“BE POSITIVE” 

Thanks for the support but sometimes you can’t just be positive all the time. It doesn’t exactly help so just don’t. 

“SO, YOU’RE ALL BETTER NOW, RIGHT?”

Honestly this one for me was the WORST. People often don’t realise you are left with so many long term side effects of cancer. After I finished treatment I was left depressed, scarred and tired and I still am even more than 2 years post. Even though life appears to be returning to normal it never will be ‘normal’ again.  

“I THOUGHT CHEMO WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU LOSE WEIGHT”

Nope. I was on steroids so I was eating like 5 times a day and put on about a stone although I needed too because I had lost so much weight before I was diagnosed. 

“JUST BE GRATEFUL YOU DON’T HAVE (INSERT ANOTHER FORM OF) CANCER”

Comparing cancers is not helpful so just don’t say it. No matter what type of cancer you have and no matter the stage, it’s a life-altering diagnosis. 

“IF THERE’S ANYTHING I CAN DO, JUST LET ME KNOW”

Okay, so this is kind but it’s not so great because then I have to figure out what I can say and then having the burden to ask. I don’t want to make you go out of your way to help. I also hate making decisions..  

WE DIDN’T ASK YOU TO COME BECAUSE WE DIDN’T THINK YOU WOULD BE UP FOR IT”

So I get why people would say this and honestly most days I was just in bed recovering from treatment but it would be nice to just be asked. Cancer can make you feel so lonely. 

“WILL YOU LOSE YOUR HAIR”

Ermm. Yes but I kinda don’t want to talk about it. It’s a massive thing for a woman to lose their hair and go bald. Well to me it was anyway..

OH, I’M SO SORRY. I WISH I COULD TAKE IT AWAY”

Thanks.. 

“I KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL”

Unless you’ve been through cancer no you don’t know how I’m feeling. You have literally no idea. 

Love Samba 

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28 Comments

  1. September 2, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    I love this post so much, you’re right it’s so hard to know what to say and what not to say, but this will give people a better understanding xx

  2. September 6, 2017 / 7:18 am

    I needed to read this. Just last week we go the awful news that my husband has cancer. We only lost his mum 18 months ago to cancer so It was a massive, raw shock. I was literally sitting here yesterday thinking I wish I knew what he will need from me, his treatment starts next week. Would love to know what you needed from your family? We have already heard some of the above, so I totally agree with you how some of these can make you eyeroll lol xx

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:21 am

      Oh I’m so sorry, I hope you are doing okay 💕 Honestly all I needed from my family was for them to be there, just holding my hand, to listen when I was having my bad days etc. I hope his treatment goes well. Oh, it’s so surprising things people say 🤷🏼‍♀️

  3. September 6, 2017 / 8:24 am

    I have had a colleague with cancer and was scared of saying the wrong thing! Great post! X

  4. September 6, 2017 / 8:50 am

    Honestly I feel like it is really hard to talk to person who is going through such a terrible time, I feel like there is nothing you can say or do to make it better. Unless you been through that, you don’t really know what to say to make it a little bit better. xx

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:24 am

      It really is hard to know what to say but sometimes all they want is for someone to listen 💕 Thank you for reading, lovely xo

  5. September 6, 2017 / 10:36 am

    This is really helpful and eye opening, feel like these are some of the classic go-to things that people say. I feel like myself I wouldn’t know the best thing to say either, this is a very informative post xx

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:25 am

      Thank you! Oh, definitely that’s why I thought I need to write this so that people can kind of understand more. xo

  6. September 6, 2017 / 10:45 am

    This is such an interesting post and im glad youve published it. I think its hard to know what to say unless you’ve been there yourself, what we think maybe the right thibg to say is sometimes not and what is worse is of those kind words we think we are saying don’t actually help. thank you for sharing and giving us some insight 😊 x

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:27 am

      EXACTLY! I was so undecided wether to post it or not but I’m so glad I did! Thank you so much for reading xo

  7. September 6, 2017 / 10:52 am

    This is a great post: I’m always amazed by how well-intentioned people can be so clueless! This is a useful practical guide for a lot of people!

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:30 am

      Thank you! Although some of these seem kind to say sometimes they can be the wrong thing. I’m glad you enjoyed reading xo

  8. September 6, 2017 / 11:05 am

    I think it’s good that you’ve started this conversation. Some people just withdraw because they don’t know what to say, and that doesn’t really help anyone either.

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:33 am

      I think it’s good to listen but when people just sit there quiet it’s really awkward and as you say doesn’t help at all. I’m hoping my post will help though 💕 Thanks for your comment, lovely xo

  9. September 6, 2017 / 1:13 pm

    I’m actually astonished to see what kind of things people would say, like HOW did it seem good to say something like “I know someone who died from what you have” or ask about something futile like your weight ? Of course it’s hard to know what to say, I would have no Idea myself, but gosh some of those sound kind of mean 😕

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:40 am

      Right?! I think it’s so hard for people to know what to say and I was so shocked when people actually said these things to me. I’m so glad I wrote this post though so hopefully people can understand more xo

  10. September 6, 2017 / 5:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing this Samantha, you are a star 🙂. I know people are only trying to help when they say those things, but there are no words sometimes

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:42 am

      Definitely. I know if I hadn’t been diagnosed I wouldn’t have had a clue what to say to be honest. Thank you for reading, Emma 💖 xo

  11. September 6, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    Total agree “I don’t know what to say”. Question for you – if someone doesn’t know what to say would it be wrong to say to do want to hear my mundane news i.e. books just to have a conversation. Know would take anyone’s mind off of what they going through but might make them feel connected for a minute. ? ?

    • September 8, 2017 / 9:46 am

      Okay, so I think this is a great question and to be totally honest I would have loved for someone to say that because I was always in the cancer world and to talk about something completely unrelated would have been great. Sometimes it’s good just to talk about normal things when going through treatment as you say it takes their mind off everything! Thank you so much for your comment xo

  12. Carrie
    September 12, 2017 / 1:15 am

    Im so glad you have posted this ,Ive been fighting since 2013 .Ive got a rare non hodkins lympoma and at first I was on watch and wait I was told of family and friends I have a good Cancer ! Really !! Its got worse over the years and had lots of side affects along tbe way had a stem cell transplant in may this year fingers crossed my cancer is at bay its incurable but can be kept at bay .Another side affect feom the chemo is i now have ansvascular necrosis what is basically the chemo has stopped my blood supply going to my hip joints so the balls in both hip joints are now dead .The pain is awful cant walk feel a invalid im 3y years old but hey least im still here .The most dissapointing thing for me has been my support network at first in 2013 everyone was there now have hand fuls of people that are there take me to appointments etc it seems as the cancer has got worse people have scurried off ! My mum passed a year since being djagnoised .never had nothing to do with my birth dad .she has 3 sisters not one of them have been there one sends the odd thinking of you if i put a status on facebook thats it its so frustrating !Im such a bubbly smiley person I dont say nothing but now im struggling keep It in Im feeling really bitter and I dont want to be that person .Im so lucky I have my partner Tony hes my soulmate my rock hes just amazing His mum and dad also are his dad trys to take me on all my appointments and barbara is just lovely .my son Josh trys to help all he can and stayed over loads when I had my transplant hes just moved to Derby starting Uni ,thats anither emotional thing .I have the best cousin Jemma who I really do not no how I would have got through this she been there 110 percente .Also all my other friends they all been fantastic to many to mention but they no who they are ….Sorry jump on your post hun It was like kepad diaharia lol xxx would be nice to be in touch with you xx

  13. September 15, 2017 / 5:25 am

    gaad, sometimes people can be so insensitive can’t they?! but i think it usually stems from a place of misunderstanding, if you haven’t had cancer yourself then you can’t even comprehend how harsh the reality really is.

    a colleague of mine recently got diagnosed with cancer, and this was a really great reminder to avoid the cliche comments and just love and support him as best i can. thanks girlie x

    katie. xx lacoconoire.com

  14. September 16, 2017 / 7:36 pm

    This was really eye-opening! I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in such a situation, and like you said – no one can understand unless they’ve been in it themselves. I’m so glad you’re doing so well <3

    xo
    Srna
    http://www.acrushonlife.com

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