You Should Never say these Things to a Cancer Patient 

Summary: Once the diagnosis comes in, so do the comments. You know the comments: the happy ones, the sad ones, the ones where you really have no safe response because you are not even sure what they just said, and the ones that make you feel guilty. Then there are the comments that make you want to inflict physical pain on someone else, and comments you will never even believe someone actually said to your face. Here you can read some of the best comments reported by our clients and class attendees!  

Once the diagnosis comes in, so do the comments. You know the comments: the happy ones, the sad ones, the ones where you really have no safe response because you are not even sure what they just said, and the ones that make you feel guilty. Then there are the comments that make you want to inflict physical pain on someone else, and comments you will never even believe someone actually said to your face. 

Most people mean no harm; they just forget to think things through before the words fall from their mouths. There is a fine line between allowing their humor, which is most likely happening because they are scared and fearful for your cancer journey, and just do not know how to properly express it. If you ever feel uncomfortable by someone’s comment, it is okay to let them know. Understand that this could leave a ‘mark’ or blemish on your relationship, which can lead to relationship turmoil down the line.  

The “comments” below are those reported by our clients during discussions and classes that we offer. As you will see, there are a wide variety of comments to be heard!  

  • “You should try this diet I read about!” Oh? I should? Are you sure? There are many diet fads available today that can have a direct interaction with medication protocols and interfere with treatment. Not to mention, some of these fad diets are completely crazy.  
  • “I know how you feel.” Oh! You have had cancer, too? No? Wait a minute… Unless you have a serious, chronic illness or life-long autoimmune disease, you probably have no clue what we, the cancer patients, are going through. Maybe if you have walked your parents, partners or children through cancer you may have a slight idea. Honestly speaking, no one knows all that another person is going through in life. We should never assume, and always ask questions when we are unsure.  
  • “At least you’ll have lots of free time now!” Excuse me? How do you figure? I’ll be at three thousand doctor’s appointments, pharmacies, and eating pills for breakfast lunch and dinner. So much free time! And many of us lose our jobs or have to give them up to have the time to handle our medical necessities, while still handling our lives.  
  • “That’s a good cancer to have.” What? A “good” cancer? There are no good cancers. Sure, there are some cancers that respond to treatments and are more easily treatable than others. However, cancer is cancer. It is not normal and has the potential to be a killer. Hearing this comment, many of our client’s retort with humor and extreme sarcasm.  
  • “You look like that actress from the movie V for Vendetta!” Oh, my. No, no I do not.  
  • “We didn’t think you would be up to this.” Ouch. This comment stings.  
  • “I know someone who died from that.” Oh, that’s perfect. We get it. You’re trying to share a personal story and connect with us on our cancer journey. I can appreciate that but try to connect with us using only positive stories.  
  • “You won’t be needing chemo? Oh, how lucky are you?” Lucky enough to have been stricken with cancer.  
  • Cancer isn’t as hard as it once was. You don’t think? It felt pretty tough during our infusions this week, and during the moments we spent hugging our toilets bowls and vomit buckets. 
  • I’ve always wanted to shave my head!” Uhm, congratulations? Shaving your head and losing your hair to chemo or some illness is not at all the same. And anyway, didn’t I look like the chick from V for Vendetta? Then it really doesn’t make sense. 
  • Didn’t you used to smoke?” Yes, I sure did! And yes, I am aware that I increased my own risk for this cancer, and most likely caused it. Thanks for reminding me! But hey, now that there’s nothing I can do but fight, I think I’ll focus on that. 
  • Everything happens for a reason.” It does? It is always for a good reason?  
  • You’re so brave.” Thanks, but we don’t feel brave. We feel terrified and alone. We don’t have a choice in this battle against cancer. We simply must stand up to fight.  
  • “If anyone can beat cancer, you can!” Well, I hope I can. I’m going to give it my best, but really, anyone who gets cancer has a chance of death. Bottom line. I’m not special. 
  • “Have you tried…” Oh, yes, probably. Unless you have a piece of advice given to you by another doctor or that is so amazing you think your life might end if you do not tell us, please don’t make any suggestions about our treatment. Sure, eating pineapple and kiwi fruit could be an effective way of combating constipation, but when the industrial strength colon-emptying pills my surgeon prescribed are not working, I will not be holding my breath on your fruit idea.  
  • “Remember, there is always someone who has it worse than you!” Really? Are you serious? This comment has varying responses reported, but most often only gets an eye roll.  
  • Look how thin you are!” While this comment is often said with a certain hint of jealousy and wonder, it can be very unhealthy and cause negative feelings in the patient. Many times, we have no control over our weight while cancer takes over. Maybe we get incredibly overweight due to medications, or we lose weight because we cannot eat or get the nourishment we need for our bodies.  
  • Are you going to wear a wig?” Who knows! Not all types of cancer and cancer treatment cause hair loss.  
  • “You’re so strong! You’ll be fine.” Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t check in with my strength first, before invading and taking over my body, shutting down my organs, and making it null and void just how much “strength” I had. 
  • You have to think positive!” We do? Is that while we are writhing in pain, vomiting for the sixth day straight, or unable to sleep because of all of the ailments and side effects caused by the medications we take daily.   
  • “Congrats! You’re done!” Yes, I finished my chemo. Does that mean I am done? My doctors told me I need to keep taking chemo pills, so maybe I am not done? Reaching the end of treatment can be a very stressful and scary time. How about if I let you know when I am really done? Thanks. 


Here are some Better Things to Say 

Remember to have patience with friends, family and strangers. Many people are simply trying to find a way to connect with you and let you know that they care. Not everyone has the same mind-ability to pre-think through the things that are coming from their mouths. If you have ever been guilty of saying an awkward comment, consider one of these comments instead. 

  • “I don’t really know what to say here. But I am here for you.” We appreciate this. A lot.  
  • “I am so sorry you are going through this.” Simple acknowledgements of how hard life is can be so helpful to someone who is constantly battling against their health. 
  • “Do you need a ride to or from chemo? A lift to the pharmacy?” Special offers for help and assistance a more direct than the standard, “I’m here if you need me.”  
  • “You don’t need to say anything. Let’s just sit here and enjoy the outdoors and nature.” For the relationships that can withstand silence, sickness and awkward moments, spending time in nature and the outdoors has proven to be calming for both the patient, and other party. 
  • “Have you seen any good television shows lately?” Television and movie recommendations are helpful for the sick days when we cannot get off of the couch, or out of bed.  

Have you heard a doozy of a comment after receiving your cancer diagnosis? Want to share it with us to add to our list? If so, simply contact our website or Facebook page! Your comment will remain anonymous, unless you prefer to have your initials. Simply add this into your notes when you submit! 



Resources Used: 



Reclaiming Intimacy



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