By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
6 things to never say to someone with cancer
You might think you are helping, but are your words doing more harm than good? - photo by Emily Cummings
Talking with someone who has a serious illness can be a sticky situation. You want to offer help, comfort, and support, but dont want to be intrusive or offensive. Like anything, theres some etiquette to know before reaching out to a friend or family member.

Let me know if theres something I can do

While you honestly mean it, this offer is especially vague. It may be uncomfortable for your friend to actually take you up on a favor because you havent really clarified what you mean by something.

If you are looking to offer help, be very specific. Offer to bring dinner and dessert on Tuesday, or pick up milk and eggs at the market later tonight. By offering something concrete, you let your friend know exactly how you can help while letting you both choose a time or situation that would be beneficial.

Oh, my aunt had cancer

.Or my grandma, my cousin, my dad, or my dog. Its a common reaction to sympathize or personally connect with your friends situation, but it can very extremely hurtful if you do. It minimizes their conflict because you cant really know how they are feeling, no matter who you knew with cancer. For a young patient, the connection between a grandmother experiencing the same type of cancer doesnt connect well with their situation at all.

Instead, appreciate their unique situation. There isnt any way you can know how they are feeling, even if you do know someone with the same diagnosis. Choose to connect in other ways by still spending time together like you did before a diagnosis. Let your friend know that this illness doesnt change your friendship.

But you are looking great!

Even though this may be true, it doesnt mean your friend is truly feeling great. Having a serious illness takes a severe emotional, physical, and psychological toll on a person, and feeling like they need to look strong and brave makes it that much more difficult.

Letting your friend know that you can be there to cry or be upset with lets them avoid the need to put on a looking great face. Sometimes, your friend will need someone to just be sad with, and being there in any way you can is great way to support someone.

At least they caught it early

Why you think you are being positive about the situation, the reality of a serious diagnosis is still there. An online community of young cancer patients discusses how frustrating it is to hear this. Yes, the cancer may be in its early stages, but it is still cancer. The treatments are still difficult. This whole situation is still overwhelming.

Theres really no way around this phrase, just avoid it completely. Take cues from your friend about whats appropriate to talk about. For some, theres a need to avoid all cancer related topics: respect that wish. For others, you may be needed to hear all about the details and emotions of this trying time and help your friend talk through the procedures.

Everything happens for a reason

You may believe this mentality, but it doesnt change the situation. Hearing that cancer happened for some unidentified reason can be extremely disheartening to hear for your sick friend.

Be supportive in other ways. Dont push alternative treatment options, religion, or unwanted advice. Respect physical boundaries, and dont be offended if your friend declines your invitations or offers to help out. Just knowing that there is someone out there who is offering to listen, or help can be comforting.

Youre so positive, you will get through this

Positive thoughts are helpful in recovery, but it can be frustrating for your sick friend to hear. Mary Elizabeth Williams discussed her own experience with cancer, and how she felt about this particular comment:

I think the worst have been the comments from people who meant well but said, "Cancer knows better than to mess with you!" or "You're so strong; you have such a great attitude; you'll get through it." My best friend and I went through cancer together, and she died. I find it so hurtful when people treat survivors like we somehow succeeded, in a situation that's so cruel and random. Would they have considered me a failure if I'd died?

Sometimes, there just isnt any amount of positive thinking or strength that can overcome an illness. Be the positive support system to lean on when things get difficult.

It sounds vague, but the best ways to help someone who is sick is to really be there for them. Keep the invitations coming, let them decide if they dont feel up to going to a soccer game our outdoor picnic. Send a note or two to say Im thinking of you. Keep anniversaries in mind to let your friend know that you are aware of events in his or her life. Respect boundaries, but dont be afraid to reach out. Leave a phone number with concrete offers, but dont be offended if you dont get a call. Its normal to want to be alone, but having people who want to help lets them feel like they arent alone.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters