10 Things Cancer Patients Secretly Wish You Would Stop Saying

Cancer happens. In fact, it happens to over 38% of the world’s population.

Almost every adult in the world has had a family member or friend who has dealt with cancer. You might be surprised by some of the things people say to cancer patients, but indeed the wrong things get said every day. If you want to let your loved one know that you care, there are ways of going about it without saying the wrong thing. Besides being shocked by some of the horrific things that have been said to cancer patients, you might also be surprised by some of the things that you may view as positive and heartfelt that cancer patients actually wish you wouldn’t say. Here are 10 things cancer patients secretly wish you would stop saying.

Are you are having trouble finding the right words?  Read our article here about how to write a meaningful and heartfelt letter.

#1 - “Let me know if you need anything.”

This might seem like a general thing to say, but that’s just it. It is general. It doesn’t mean much to someone with cancer and leaves things open-ended and almost empty feeling. How is a cancer patient supposed to respond to that? What if they indeed asked you for something that you couldn’t do for them? Are they literally supposed to believe you would do “anything” for them? Don’t ask a cancer patient this empty question.

#2 - “Why would God do something like this to you?”

First of all, it's usually best to leave religion out of your talks with a cancer patient. Secondly, a statement like this gives them the sense that you believe a greater power did this to them for some sort of a reason. It gives the sense that there is something wrong they did to deserve a punishment. Leave higher powers out of the discussion in most cases.

#3 - “Did you smoke at all? Was it second-hand smoke? How did you get it?”

Smoking is not the cause of all cancers, and neither is second-hand smoke. A question like this only shows you are trying to put someone or something at fault which is not at all what the cancer patient wants to think about. And even if they did know how their cancer developed, it’s not something they want to have a discussion about just because you asked.

#4 - “Positivity is everything. Keep being positive. You have to stay positive.”

Positivity is not the cure for cancer. There have been many positive people who have died from cancer, just like there have been many negative people who have survived cancer. No one should have to stay positive, and no - positivity is not everything. And for the cancer patient who knows this, telling them that they have to stay positive is showing your own selfishness because you want them to be positive for others like yourself.

#5 - “Everything will be okay.”

This is another empty statement that many cancer patients hate hearing. No one knows if everything will be okay, not even their doctor. People can hope and try to make some things better than they would be, but no one really knows. It is impossible for every single thing to be okay, especially for a cancer patient, so don’t make yourself sound naive in saying that every single thing will be just fine.

# 6 - “Have you tried ______ ?”

Don’t ever think you have the magic potion for curing cancer. Billions of dollars have been spent trying to figure this out, and if it were easy enough for you to find the magic potion or pill or mindset to cure cancer, everyone would do it and cancer wouldn’t exist. But it does exist, it does happen, and you voicing what you think they should try in order to cure their cancer doesn’t help one bit.

#7 - “If you pray hard enough, you will be cured.”

If this were true, there would be no need for medicine or therapy or any sort of treatment. And on another note, saying something like this not only gives unwanted and false advice but also tells the cancer patient that if they don’t indeed become cured, that it was their fault for not praying hard enough.

#8 - “Have you planned your funeral / written your will / prepared for your death?”

Questions like this do get asked, and cancer patients don’t like hearing them. These subjects should only be talked about by those that the cancer patient feels close enough to talk to them about. If you’re not one of them, don’t ask about their funeral, their will, or any sort of preparations for their death. We all die someday, and no one is ever fully prepared for it.

#9 - “What if your hair doesn’t grow back? / Are you worried about losing your hair?”

Not all cancer patients lose their hair. And even for those that will lose their hair, it’s not something you should push your worry onto. Cancer patients have so much more to worry about besides the possibility of losing their hair, and even if they were actually worried about it, they wouldn’t want to be reminded of this worry by you.

#10 - “Live every day like it’s your last.”

Although this seems like a very positive statement, it gives a cancer patient the sense that you believe they will be having their last day soon. And on top of that, it’s difficult enough for a cancer patient to eat food, let alone getting out of bed in the morning. Don’t voice your opinion that they should be living it up and doing all the things they want to do.  Most of the time they wouldn’t have the energy or will to do these things in the first place.

Among these 10 things cancer patients secretly wish you would stop saying, one thing to make absolutely clear is that you should also not just be silent. Besides anything you shouldn’t say to a cancer patient, the worst is not saying anything at all. If you care about your loved one, you will simply be there for them. You will talk to them. Not being there at all through what could be one of the worst experiences of their life shows a lot. Talk to them. Be caring. But most of all, be present.

About the Author

When my best friend was diagnosed with Cancer, I wanted to give her a care package to let her know I was thinking of her. I was just guessing at what to include and I learned a lot about what can be both useful and meaningful to someone walking their cancer journey. My own frustration led me to start Help Them Fight to create a resource for others going through the same situation.