3 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Cancer


Tomorrow is the day! It is the third phase of my treatment for thyroid cancer. It involves being off thyroid meds for two weeks, taking a radioactive iodine pill, and then I return to this very unfamiliar new life. Life after cancer.

I’ll jump to the list and ramble later on.

Here are three things you should never say to someone who has cancer living in their body.

1. “Oh, that type of cancer isn’t that bad.”

This response shocks me. The person who says this clearly doesn’t want to find out about how I am doing or how my views of life have changed. I never expected I would get cancer and there were several months where I had to remind myself each morning that, yes, I am dealing with cancer.

The specific type I had showed up when I went in to my doc for a subdermal cyst. This made him notice a slight bulge on my neck. The ultrasound showed I had a large mass there. The mass was removed from my thyroid, but it turns out there was a second mass a fraction of the size of the first had metastasized.

At this point, I most definitely remembered anyone who said, “Oh, that type of cancer isn’t bad,” and knew I needed to write this post. That attitude is literal anti-consolation and gives no room for a person with cancer to express their suffering.

2. “Don’t worry. Things will work out for the better.” (or any other platitude)

After hearing this in person, via text, and email —  some decided to make it their daily mission to send platitudes I would delete upon arrival  —  I realized why this rapid firing of platitudes angered. Platitudes for the suffering are equally as dismissive as my first point, but gilded in words that feel good when they are spoken. I’m sorry, but using platitudes to emote good feelings on a person who isn’t feeling good, doesn’t work.

I turned around and sent an email to these platitude tossers (bcc’ing their emails, of course), and said their kind words were exceedingly useless. The best they could do is simply to ask how I was doing.

By the way, “How are you doing?” is the best possible thing to say to anyone who is suffering. It gives a person space to vent their thoughts, talk about what they are doing to cope, and will leave a person who is suffering with a slightly less burdened feeling.

A person’s response to “How are you doing?” is often a struggle or perspective that was locked in the hidden parts of one’s mind. Releasing this struggle and pinning down emotions to words reduces the perceived struggle in a concrete way.

3. “I know someone who has had that cancer and they are fine.”

This isn’t as bad as the first response, because the individual has made an effort to learn what someone else has gone through. I can only assume they didn’t shrug off or dismiss that person in their life who had cancer.

But, again, no two people are the same. And there are multiple variants of thyroid cancer and billions of individuals in the world. There are many ways things could turn out.

The fact that one person seems to be living carefree after thyroid cancer doesn’t mean all others with thyroid cancer are actually carefree.

How are you doing?

Not everyone I spoke to had these responses. There were a few folks who genuinely were hit with this cancer news and showed empathy. I haven’t shared it with many people, but end up sharing it to be honest about my life.

These empathetic people often were silent at first. I think they realized that they too hadn’t really thought much about cancer, but there I was chatting with them online or sitting across the table making jokes, drinking seltzer, and chilling out.

One person I spoke to had been self medicating with medical marijuana and supposedly arresting the growth of his thyroid cancer. When the dude saw me chatting with him days after my second surgery, he could see that the procedure wasn’t as bad as he thought.

The reality of thyroid cancer is this  —  the thyroid does so much. It regulates metabolism, and sends hormones to several other organs.

“Thyroid hormones affect your metabolism rate, which means how fast or slow your brain, heart, muscles, liver, and other parts of your body work.”  —  hormone.org

Even before I had my first surgery, I had thyroid failure and it was one of the most confusing and horrible times of my life. It was so strange how no matter how much sleep I got, I still was needing two-hour naps and always feeling tired.

After my first surgery, the left thyroid kicked in and compensated for the missing right thyroid. I felt amazing and was buzzing around doing freelance work and errands with energy to spare.

After the second surgery, I had no thyroid left and had to rely on a pill to get thyroid hormone in my body. This meant wherever I went I needed to think ahead and bring the right amount of pills with me.

One of the tricky things I learned the hard way is having any food with calcium or iron near the 30-minute window, I had to wait after I took the pill, and it diminished the affects of the pill.

It also turned out my dose was too low, and they had to increase it twice before getting the right hormone levels floating around in my body.

The last phase of the procedure is to take a radioactive iodine pill that will obliterate anything (cancer or not) that is thyroid. I take the pill for a day and the following day I am back on my meds.

The huge catch to the last phase is that I need to be off my thyroid meds for two weeks prior to the iodine pill. That is two weeks of feeling like a sloth  —  minus the smile.

This post was originally published on Medium.

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Getty Images photo via Chalabala


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