5 Things Not To Say When People Have Cancer

January 17, 2016

This may seem a bit of a random post… but, it’s one that has been close to home for me over the years, and one that I know is close to home to quite a few of my friends right now.  So… with that disclosure….

Cancer. It is one tough fight. People that battle cancer and their families are phenomenal fighters. Though I have not had cancer myself, many of my close family (2 grandma’s, an uncle, and an aunt) and one of my best friend’s/teammates as well as other neighbors and friends have been through cancer. I’m no expert, but having been around cancer for nearly my whole life, I’ve observed things along the way. One of the things I notice most is that people get awkward when people have cancer. They want to say something but they don’t know what. They want to help but they don’t know how. Well, I asked some of my family, friends, and pulled my life experiences to create this list. These 5 things to do/not do were said by multiple people who have experienced cancer, so although they may not be a “blanket fits all”, there are some ideas on what to do when a friend, family member, or neighbor gets cancer.

#5. Saying Nothing/Pretending Nothing is Happening

Um. Cancer is big! Let the person tell you in their own time and way, but don’t avoid them, that’s just awkward [and lonely for them and you!].

What to do instead:

Say, “I’m sorry”, give a smile, hug, join in on the cancer jokes. Listen. Let them talk. Some times it’s even ok to just sit with someone and be there for them, no words necessary.

#4. “Let me know what I can do to help….”

No one likes this. People that don’t have cancer don’t like this. Having such an open ended question and a vague question can make it challenging.  A lot of the times they don’t know what to have you do, what you’re willing to do, or feel awkward asking.

What to do instead:

Offer specifics and then DO IT!!! Flakiness never was a desired quality, so follow through on what you say! Offer dinner, a night out, a visit, to clean the house, do the dishes, etc. If they say no, that’s ok. If they say yes, do what you say!

#3. Horror Stories

My best buddy Kalina put it this hilarious way, “Oh my so-and-so monkey’s uncle’s cousin had cancer…. and they died.”   Well wow! That makes ya feel good…not! Yes, relating is a good social skill, but when someone has cancer they don’t want to hear that the person you know died, or the horrible things they went through.

What to do instead:

It’s good to relate, but share positive things. Focus on your friend/family member and not on that random person’s horror story that you heard. This is their battle, focus on that one.

#2: I Know EXACTLY How You Feel.

Um, no you don’t. Nobody except that person and Jesus know how they feel, so don’t say that. No. Just don’t.  This was at the top of the list of annoying things, so avoid this like the cancer.  [That was a cancer joke for you Kalina ;)]

What to do instead:

Again, you don’t have to relate to everything this person is going through. Just be there for them. Listen, give a hug, make some food, be a good friend, pray for them, talk to them, and be there.

#1: “Cancer this, cancer that, cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer!!!”

Just because someone has cancer doesn’t mean that they are defined by cancer. I think one of the things I notice most and that my friends and family said is that when you get cancer, all of a sudden that’s all a person is: cancer. All anyone can talk about with them is cancer. All anyone asks about is cancer. On top of that, people comment negatively on things they normally wouldn’t. Whether it was weight, hair, damaging effects of cancer on a persons body, etc. all of a sudden their body becomes free game to comment on whatever comes to mind!

What to do instead:

TALK TO THEM ABOUT NORMAL PEOPLE THINGS. They had likes and dislikes and interests before they got cancer, and they still do. They still have normal feelings and interests and are human beings. Yes, ask about cancer, but ask about other things too, especially the things they love to do. Be thoughtful and courteous, don’t just make any comment you want because you’re curious or think you know exactly how they must be feeling. Give compliments, give love and encouragement, and at the end of the day, remember that they are still your family member, friend, or loved one and still want to talk about you and your life as well as normal things in their life.


To all my friends, family, and neighbors who have had, who currently have, or have a loved one going through cancer… we love you!! God loves you. Hang in there. You can do this… no matter the stage of ‘this’ you’re in.

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