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What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Cancer

Cancer doesn’t just affect an individual, it affects their entire circle of friends, family members, and loved ones. Knowing how to react after receiving a cancer diagnosis is never easy. As you could assume, a similar pain also spreads to those that are close to the individual. If you’ve never been through cancer yourself or have never known someone close to you who has already gone through this traumatic experience, it can be difficult to know how to support a loved one with cancer

While providing support to a cancer patient is always appreciated, sometimes the advice given may not be the best. Remember, emotions are running high for everyone, especially for your loved one or friend. Take care and precaution when approaching the situation. 

If learning how to best communicate with a loved one going through cancer is new to you, the best thing you can do is to get educated. In this article, we are going to provide advice on how you can give practical help and support to someone who is on their cancer journey. While there is no black-and-white cancer etiquette to follow, these tips will help you navigate the cancer experience and provide the right kind of support to those who need it. 

What Not to Say to Someone With Cancer

You may have the best intentions when providing practical support to a cancer patient, but sometimes it can do more harm than good if you aren’t careful. Below we’ll be covering what not to say to a cancer patient so you can provide better cancer care and emotional support to a loved one. 

Giving Unsolicited Advice

Unless you have personally had your cancer experience yourself, most individuals will not want to hear your unsolicited advice. You may be coming from a good place and trying to help, however, for a cancer patient, this may just confuse them even more. The only people that they should be listening to are health professionals or individuals who have gone through the same experience. 

Not Saying Anything

While it can be quite easy to say the wrong thing, it’s almost worse to stay quiet. If you have a relationship with this person, do not avoid them out of fear or confusion about how to handle the situation. Let them know that you are there to support them in any way you can. While this may be a small step, many cancer patients just want someone to provide comfort, even if that means having regular conversations and making plans. If you are family or a significant other to this person, don’t forget to remind them of how much you love them. 

Asking “How can I help?”

While this may seem like a good thing, put yourself in someone’s shoes who is having their own cancer experience. You know deep down that a friend or family member really can’t improve the situation or make the cancer go away. This could be a loaded question and make a cancer patient feel overwhelmed. Instead, be specific with your questions. Consider asking them if you could come over for coffee or ask them if they need a few things from the grocery store. Being specific will allow you to make a difference for the cancer patient and improve their life in some way.

Saying “At least you got a good type of cancer”

Remember, someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer is terrified of what’s going to happen next. You say, “At least it was a good type of cancer!” is not going to make an individual feel any better. Cancer is cancer, no matter the type or stage. By making this comment, you are saying their problem could be worse, it’s not so bad. Instead, stay positive by offering support and letting your loved one know that you will be there for all the ups and downs. 

“I’m sure everything will be alright”

Once again, if you are just a friend or loved one, do not give unsolicited advice on someone’s health status. If you are not a doctor or healthcare professional who is heavily involved in cancer patients, most people fighting cancer will not want to listen to optimistic claims that have no concrete support behind them. This may give an individual the feeling of false hope or over-optimism. Instead, ask them how they are feeling and see what makes them feel better either mentally or physically. 

“You should eat more”

When someone is battling cancer or is going through treatment, it is very likely that their appetites will change or they’ll lose weight. Treatment can often make individuals lose their taste buds, making it difficult to want to eat as normal. Plus, the harsh treatments can also make foods more difficult to digest for some individuals. As long as an individual can maintain their daily energy and feels physically well, do not force them to eat when they don’t want to. Once the treatment is over, they will most likely regain their weight. 

“Now that you are done with treatment, life will go back to normal”

Anyone who has gone through cancer knows that treatment is just one part of the cancer journey. If your loved one has just completed chemotherapy or another type of cancer therapy, you can congratulate them but do not pretend like their issues are over. Oftentimes this is when they will feel the most depleted. Instead, tell them that you are sorry they had to go through that and ask what the next steps include. Showing interest and your support may be exactly what a loved one needs to stay positive during this difficult time.

Wrapping Up

When it comes to supporting someone going through cancer treatment, it can be hard knowing both the right and wrong things to say. There’s no clear guide to cancer etiquette for you to follow. But with just a little bit of background information and empathy, you’ll be able to provide your loved one with the practical support they need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

If you or someone you know is going through cancer, please know you are not alone. If you are looking for professional support from someone who has gone through the turmoil of a cancer diagnosis, I can help. As a trusted cancer coach, I’ve helped cancer survivors everywhere take their health into their own hands and reclaim their lives. If you are looking to make the necessary changes needed to beat cancer, contact me today to get started on my one-on-one cancer coaching sessions.

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