The Mighty Logo

2 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Cancer

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I spend a huge portion of my life avoiding confrontation and trying to keep people happy. It takes vast amounts of emotional fortitude for me to talk about things that might end up offending someone. So please read this with the grace intended. I am writing this because I have been given this situation, so we might as well learn something for us.

This is about talking to people with cancer. Just two things:

heather and her son
Heather and her son.

1. Mentioning recurrences while someone is being treated for cancer is really tough.

It is the fear of all cancer patients. What if it comes back? None of us are promised that we are really OK. This will be with us for the rest of our lives.

We do much thinking about the lone cancer cell that snuck out and is waiting to wreak havoc in our liver, bones, lungs or brain. This thought is forefront in our minds. It is the reality of this disease. It comes back and when it does, it often means the end.

I might be asking the impossible: to check in on us and love us, but under my rules. I want you to ask how I’m doing, how the kids are, how my treatment is progressing. I love being open and sharing and hoping to educate all of us in the process.

But when you tell me about you friend who was just like me and doing great and it just came back in her lungs… I will smile, show true empathy, ask how she is doing and then there is a good chance that I will leave you and go throw up. It hits me that hard, and I would think that I’m not alone in this as a member of the cancer population.

2. Please do not ever, ever, ever mention in conversation with my babies and me someone who has died from cancer.

This happens on a weekly basis. I am so sorry, truly heartbreakingly sorry that you had to lose someone you love from this awful disease. I am. I want to hug you and ask you about them and help you in your pain. But when you say this in front of my kids, I will change the subject and maybe even sound like I’m belittling your loss.

My job right now is to protect my boys and put their hearts at rest. I am wise enough to decipher the difference between your grandmother’s cancer battle and mine. I will be fine and I hate that your story was different. My children cannot differentiate.

They hear cancer, they hear someone died and they are robbed of their peace and become afraid again that their mom will die. Please ask after us, but keep it light in front of the kids. More importantly, please ask THEM how they are doing. It would bless me so much if someone would direct a question to them, look in their eyes and see their heart and ask if they are doing OK. They have bravely carried the hardest part of this.

Thank you for listening. xo

Originally published: April 6, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home