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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Do You Say to Someone with Cancer

Last week I wrote a bit more on what NOT to say so this week I want to write about what to say instead.

When someone first got the news that they have cancer, there is silence for a bit as the words sink in.  Some people start to cry, other hold the hand of the person that is there with them and many look at the doctor and say “What?”  The doctor then repeats “You have cancer”. They will add what kind of cancer “You have Breast Cancer, or you have Multiple Myeloma Cancer.”  But first there is silence. 
 So Be Silent.

1.       Be silent, look at your friend and be still for a few seconds.  Then say something like “I’m so very sorry”.  Give them a hug and if you are close enough cry together.

2.       It’s OK to ask “How did they find it?” or “I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of that cancer, where is it?”

3.       It’s OK to ask “I’ve never heard of that cancer, can you tell me more about it?”

4.       It’s OK to ask “When did you find out?” Some people wait a long time to let the cat out of the bag as it were.  If they don’t look or act sick, you might never have known.

5.       It’s OK to ask “Have you met your Oncologist yet and what was your first impression?”

6.       It’s Ok to ask “What's your a plan of attack?”

7.        It’s OK to ask “While on treatment, what foods should you not eat or what foods can you have to help boost your immune system?”

8.       It’s OK to ask “You have someone going with you to the doctor’s, right?”

9.       It’s OK to ask “Did you tell your boss and are they willing to help you?”

10.   It’s OK to ask “Did they warn you of any side effects?”
11. It's OK to ask "How are you doing today?"

See, what’s happening here? You don’t make any judgments about them or the type of cancer they have.  You don’t comment on how they look right now. Remember, to the person with cancer, it’s all bad news. You don’t tell those stories of others with cancer, you listen to their story.   You ask questions, let them answer.  You get a feel for how they are doing, how scared they are. You get a feel for how much they know now and how much they don’t know yet. You get a feel for how much they like their team of doctors or not. You be a friend. 

Thursday, I’ll have a list of ways you can help your friend – many are free!!


  1. This is wonderful useful advice Lynn. It's a given we're all going to encounter someone with a cancer diagnosis at some time or another. Thank you for these suggestions as to how best to support them. Hope you're doing well.

  2. Wonderful advice ... sooner or later we're all going to know someone who's been diagnosed with cancer ... your advice will help us be prepared to truly be there for them.

  3. Always enjoy your blogs. Thank you for enlightening me on such a difficult subject.

  4. Thanks for the great advice. Sooner or later, it will come in handy--hopefully, it'll be much later, though.

  5. I have to admit, I do comment on how "great" someone might look, so I'll avoid that one in the future. Thanks for the list of what to say, going to make note of it. I do know I have said "I'm really sorry" and hugged them so at least I got one right :)


  6. Thank you so much for this information. I've been guilty of doing some of the things you said not to. While I've meant well, it really helps to know some things I can say. I have a brother and mother-in-law both fighting cancer right now. Hopefully I'll be more help now.

  7. This is a great post. I love the pretty open ended questions to help determine how someone feels, and even how much they want to talk about it, or not.

  8. I am a cancer survivor, and having been there, I don't think I could have said this better than you did. Excellent post. Thank you!!

  9. Your list of what to say is eye opening. What strikes me is how your list is mostly comprised of questions to ask your friend with cancer.

    That confirms for me that asking questions and asking for more information about a beloved friend's illness demonstrates interest, not nosiness.

    Your being so open about your multiple myeloma has educated me because I'd never heard about this cancer until you contracted it.

    Your being forthright talking about it and answering so many questions I had for you made me respect and admire you all the more. It also made me even more emotionally invested being a member of Team Lynn Marie.

    If you hadn't shared this awful struggle with your friends and readers, none of us would have known, and you wouldn't have had as many prayer warriors talking to God on your behalf.

    There's no such thing as too many prayers or too much love being sent to someone who needs it. I know that your finding out just how many people love and care about you has given you strength on days when you were just too tired to fight on. Yet you did just that.

    Remission is a beautiful thing and that's what I'm still praying for, for you, dear friend.

  10. Thank you for the time and effort to write this.It would be easy to be frustrated and angry and dismiss us for our stupidity. Our hearts are full of compassion but our minds are sometimes thoughtless and our tongues untrained. This is very, very helpful. I am wondering how it can get broader publication.

  11. Thank you Lynn Marie, this was very helpful.


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