When a friend or loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, it's important to be there for them and show that you care. But finding the right words can be hard.
So, what do you say that won't scare or upset them? What words can you use to give them hope, or the courage they need to face treatment and its possible side effects?
We asked cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in our Facebook community to share the best things to say to someone with cancer.
Here's what they recommend.
Keep it upbeat
Choose positive, encouraging words, but don’t give false hope or talk about anyone else’s cancer outcomes. Remember: everyone is different, and hearing other people’s stories may scare your friend or loved one. Here are some good options to consider:
"I’m here for you."
“I’m praying for you."
Be specific when offering help
Don’t ask what you can do, or say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Many people won’t ask for help, even if they know they need it.
Instead, jump in and do whatever you can to make life easier for your friend or loved one. Have a meal delivered. Mow their lawn. Watch the kids or walk the dog while they take a nap. Or, say:
“OK, where do we start? I want to help.”
“This sucks. But I love you. And, I'm going to (help by ___ ).”
“What’s the one thing you need from me right now?”
Or, just listen
Your friend or loved one has a lot to think about, and one of the best gifts you can give them is to be a good listener and a reliable sounding board. Don’t focus on your own worries or sadness about your friend or loved one's diagnosis, though. They shouldn’t feel like they have to take care of you.
Instead, just listen and offer strength, humor and encouragement. Some ways that could sound may be:
“I’ve got your back.”
“You don’t have to face this alone.”
“Have you called MD Anderson yet? Here's the number: 1-877-632-6789. Do you want me to request an appointment for you?”
What not to say
Sometimes, knowing what not to say is just as important as saying the right thing. A lot of well-meaning people react to the news of a diagnosis in ways that end up making the caregiver or person with cancer feel worse. Here are some things you should never say to someone with cancer or their caregiver.
“Huh. You don’t look that sick.” Or, “But you look great!”
“It could be worse.”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Well, at least … (you caught it early, your hair won’t fall out, etc.)”
“That’s the best type of cancer to have!”
“Have you considered trying … (some unproven alternative therapy)”
Whatever you do, don’t say nothing
Some people ignore cancer patients or their caregivers after a diagnosis because they don’t quite know what to say. But that only makes already stressed-out people feel more isolated. So, don’t go radio silent, even if you’re worried about saying the wrong thing.
Sometimes, a simple “hello” or “I love you” is enough to make someone feel seen and cared about. But if nothing else, say, “I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this.” Because that is likely true, no matter whom you might be talking to.
It’s also important to remember that words will occasionally fail us. When that happens, the best thing to offer might just be a hug.