6 Things You Shouldn't Say to a Cancer Patient

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Many people find themselves at loss for words when they find out someone they know is suffering from cancer. Even with the best of intentions, they can find themselves saying things that are hurtful without realizing their impact on the cancer patient.

Caring for someone close to you who has been diagnosed with cancer is no small task. So, if you find yourself in such a situation and want to show your sympathy and support in a compassionate way.

6 sayings to steer clear of

  1. "Everything is going to be fine."
    With cancer, you can never be sure of what the future holds. When you tell a cancer patient that everything will be okay, they may feel unheard and dismissed. A comment like this might make them feel that their disease is being taken lightly and their true suffering is not at all being understood. So, show your support by talking about hope realistically, with due consideration of risks.
  2. "I understand your feelings."
    Although you are trying your very best to be understanding, telling a cancer patient that you share their feelings is a bad idea. Only cancer patients and survivors can completely understand the pain and emotions that accompany such a serious illness. If you, as a healthy person, make such a claim, then you may automatically make the patient more anxious.
    Empathy is a positive character trait that can help you communicate with others across the board, but assuming that you truly appreciate the patient’s state of mind is insensitive. A better way to discuss their feelings is by asking them how they are holding up, and assuring them that you are there for whatever they may need.
  3. "Be positive and avoid stress."
    A person diagnosed with something like cancer has every reason to feel low and stressed at times. Though it is suggested to avoid stress for defeating cancer, you should not tell a cancer patient to shut out all their worries. If you tell them that their stress might encourage the growth of cancerous cells, they will start feeling guilty about their disease and hold themselves responsible for it. The best way to suggest a ‘remedy’ for stress is by encouraging patients to engage in activities that they enjoy. Offer to participate with them, or facilitate some kind of welcome distraction, but never force them to partake.
  4. "I think about your situation and can’t stop crying."
    Do not, at any cost, portray yourself as the victim and center of attention while trying to comfort a loved one with cancer. If you are trying to show sympathy by telling the patient that you keep crying for them, then it can break the patient emotionally, especially when they are trying to hold their hopes up. Be honest about your feelings if they ask, but also realize that you are a vital source of support for your loved one. Instead of focusing on your emotions, tell the cancer patient that they have a shoulder to cry on whenever they feel low or sad.
  5. "You are a strong person."
    As soon as people hear about somebody suffering from cancer, many react by automatically encouraging them to be a hero who valiantly battles the disease. The reality is, not everybody is a hero and not everybody is that strong. When cancer patients are told that they are warriors or fighters who have to beat cancer with a high spirit, they often get intimidated and feel an immense amount of pressure. Instead of putting even more of a burden on the patient, appreciate their attempts to handle the stress, and admire how they are coping up with the tremendous challenge they are facing.
  6. "Let me know if I can do something for you."
    While it sounds like a very polite thing to offer, it may leave cancer patients in tough situation. Rather than actually helping, your this offer places additional responsibility on your loved one to seek out help. Many individuals wish to retain their independence and function at the same level they did prior to their diagnosis, which isn’t always realistic. Instead of making the patient confused about what to ask from you or when, offer your help in specific areas that you can manage. For instance, if you can cook, simply ask them when would be a convenient time for you to deliver some of their favorite home-cooked dishes.

Showing sympathy to patients, especially those with cancer, is not always straightforward. If you do not know what to say, it is better to quietly listen to their concerns instead of saying something that may not come across as supportive. In addition to knowing common things you should avoid saying, you should also consider beneficial things to say and how to show your support to somebody who has cancer.


Skornia Alison is a professional writer working for anessay writing service, and also a healthcare blogger, hailing from the US. She takes great interest in exploring the healthcare industry and writing insightful blogs on topics related to health, fitness, and lifestyle, etc..

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4 Comments

I agree with most of this, but not entirely with the last one. After stating that many people wish to retain their independence and function normally, you then suggest turning up on their doorstep with food, which is insinuating that they can't even feed themselves. When I was diagnosed with cancer some 10 years ago, for some strange reason my parents came to see me armed with an enormous bag of ham and a pile of eggs. To this day I'm puzzled about this. I don't even like ham that much...
I think it's acceptable to make an open-ended offer of help with a few suggestions as to what kind of things you might be able to do for them. That way they aren't left confused as to what kind of assistance they can seek from you.
Skornia Alison, thank you for the article, I can agree to just about everything you wrote as I had cancer. I know people mean well, but sometimes I was more upset after the conversation. My sig other would say to me "just relax" and those became fighting words for me.... relax? yeah right? There is no relaxing going through this nightmare.

The best thing anyone had said to me was by a good friend when she first heard I had cancer, she said "that must suck big time". And she got it right.

As for those good people asking if they could do something for me, I would always say no because I was too shy to ask for help. What I needed was someone to show up at the door, no nonsense, with food or a vacuum cleaner saying they are here to help and I can't stop them :)
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