8 Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer

8 Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer

I’ve deliberated for some time as to whether to write this post or not because whilst I think there are some things not to say to someone with cancer, I’m only talking about what I don’t want to hear.

I recently wrote a post on how to talk to someone with cancer and if you know anyone who has recently been diagnosed, you might find that helpful.

8 Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer - lovefrommim.com Triple Negative Breast Cancer How to talk to someone with Cancer What not to say to someone with Cancer

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Here goes though, here are the 8 things not to say to someone with cancer – or not to me please :)

1.  I’m so sorry

I’ll start with the most common phrase used and I’ll hold my hands up and say that I’m sure to have used this myself many times before my own cancer diagnosis.

Think about it though from my perspective and how it comes across – it isn’t a particularly positive or helpful thing to say in isolation. To me is sounds like “I’m sooooooooo sooooorrrrrrryyyyyyy”. The End.

And I think, oh great, thanks. You’ve clearly written me off then, I’ll start digging my own grave now!

Of course I know it is never intended to come across this way but it might sound just a little dismissive to whoever is on the receiving end.

2.  My Aunty/Great Grandmother/Neighbour’s Sister’s Dog had cancer and they died.

Seriously? Seriously?! I mean, thanks a bloody lot. We can all think of someone who has died of cancer and whilst I’m terribly sorry for your loss I do not want to hear this!

You’d be surprised at how many people say this – or I certainly am.

3.  You’ll be ok, they’re coming up with new cures every day!

Now I like your intentions here, you’re being positive, you’re trying to come up with something uplifting but just bear in mind that the new medical breakthrough you’re reading about today is highly unlikely to be of benefit to me.  In fact, it probably has decades, or at least years, of trials and testing in front of it before the general public get a pop at it so really, it isn’t going to save my life.

It goes without saying I know but YAY for future people diagnosed, they will benefit. Just not me unfortunately unless I’m lucky enough to have access to a trial.

4.  It’s only hair! (when it falls out after chemo)

Bugger right off. It is NOT only hair – it’s my hair. Next person who says this gets a punch in the balls.

5.  My Aunty/Great Grandmother/Neighbour’s Sister’s Dog had chemo and they didn’t have your symptoms.

Um, is it a competition? Am I not stacking up against those valiant and brave chemo heroes who went before me?

Lucky them! I would love to be Super Mim who sailed through chemo and thought it a walk in the park. No such luck and that’s fine, I know I’m not the only one who struggles with it.

Let’s not make it competitive though, hey?

6.  You need to be positive!

Oh right, thanks for telling me to be positive! Oh without you to TELL me to be positive, I suppose I would have been, what exactly? Negative? Shut up.

Of course I’m going to be positive but let me tell you that 75% of the time I’m pretending to be positive. Fake it til you make it and all that.

I’m a pretty positive person but even I have my limits and cancer has it’s moments of being anything but positive and happy. I’m trying though, I’m getting through it.

I dooo like it when people commend me for already being positive though – this is lovely positive reinforcement of my, um, positivity.

7.  You have to stay alive for your kids

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told this. What do they think I’m doing, planning my own burial? Ignoring the fact that I have two tiny children who need their mother to be around for at least another hundred years?

My children are in the forefront of my mind every second of every day, especially since my diagnosis. I don’t need you to tell me to stay alive for them, I’m desperately doing that already. Don’t give me any more reason to feel guilty for rocking my family’s world.

8.  Nothing

Yes, nothing.

I can forgive all of the above points for the simple fact that every single time I’ve been told one of them, it’s come with love and from someone who is desperately trying to find the right words to say to me.

It takes guts to talk to someone with cancer, whether they’re your partner, best friend, Mum, colleague or stranger you’ve just met. You’re scared that what you’re going to say isn’t going to be right or is going to upset them. You don’t want to be too dismissive or too emotional.

You don’t want to say someone so wrong it ends up in a post like this one! Sorry sorry :)

BUT you’ve said something and whether it helped or not, I’m grateful to you for trying to say the right thing and for being there for me.

What I can’t really forgive is silence. Those people who stay away from you, I suppose until the cancer is over and we can all pretend everything’s ok again.

The very worst thing you can say to someone with cancer is nothing at all.

And now this is starting to sound like a Ronan Keating ballad.

Thanks for allowing me to, well have a bit of a rant really. Thank you to everyone who has sent me well wishes and messages of support.

If you’ve said one of the phrases above to me or someone else with cancer, don’t feel bad, we know it was meant with love.

If you are stuck for what to say to someone you know with cancer, you might find this post helpful.

8 Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer - lovefrommim.com Triple Negative Breast Cancer How to talk to someone with Cancer What not to say to someone with Cancer

Linked to You Baby Me Mummy and Amy Treasure

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  1. Emilie
    2nd July 2016 / 4:57 am

    I can’t believe people actually say some of these things! I mean “JUST hair”?!

    • 4th July 2016 / 1:45 pm

      Ha ha I know, right! x

  2. 24th May 2016 / 6:27 am

    I can really relate to this Mim but for my own condition. Somethings really bug me and maybe I should write a post..what not to say to someone who is chronically ill. Angela from Daysinbed

    • 24th May 2016 / 11:38 am

      Thank you lovely :) let me know if you do. I think some people blurt out the wrong thing when they’re at a loss of what to say but better to say something than nothing :) x

  3. 20th May 2016 / 9:25 am

    I think I did number 1 to you! & now I’m wanting to say ‘I’m so sorry’ for saying ‘I’m so sorry’! Apologies! I don’t think I’ve done the rest to anyone, though, & I can see why they’d be annoying. Some of these I certainly wouldn’t dream of saying, & I’m really surprised/horrified people do. I suggest, instead of a punch in the balls, you offer to shave the head of the next person to make the hair comment! After all, they won’t mind – it’s only hair! Tell them they can do it for charity! #thelist

    • 25th May 2016 / 2:24 pm

      Ah you have NOTHING to apologise for! Hee hee I would love to shave a few heads :) x

  4. 16th May 2016 / 7:59 pm

    Mim I can’t believe that people have said some of these things to you! I think I’ve probably done the I’m so sorry one though, aaagh. I love the way that you are dealing with your situation and these posts are honestly really helpful for someone who never knows what to say in such situations! At least it’s only hair though, imagine if you’d got upset over losing it! ;-) Idiots. xxx

    • 17th May 2016 / 12:07 pm

      Don’t you apologise at all, you’ve never said a thing wrong :) Hee hee yes, if it was only hair they’d all shave theirs off too! x

  5. 15th May 2016 / 7:56 am

    Oh Mim my mam had cancer so from the age of 17 I heard all of the above over the years and it would drive me mad, let alone her. The worst were the people who’d go on to talk about their own petty problems like having a bad cold… As if small talk like that would divert attention.

    In my experience, my mam had good days and bad days, so anyone who said ‘how are you today Jean?’ showed they got it. This simple twist on the everyday ‘how are you?’ meant they weren’t just expecting the usual ‘Fine thanks’ response.

    Humour worked too. With her best friend they always joked about. My mam would say how she’d throw her prosthetic boob at her if she didn’t agree with her, and her friend would reply ‘oh shut up Gypsie Lee’ (so called from the turban hat she wore instead of a wig indoors) haha!

    Mim, thanks for sharing your experience and helping people find a voice. You’ll have bad days and better days and sometimes all you need is for someone to say that dealing with cancer is shit. My advice is to agree… then whack them over the head with a prosthetic boob! ;-)

    Love Ruth xx

    P.s I have BRCA2 mutation and had a double mastectomy with reconstruction to lower my risk of breast cancer from 80% to <5%.
    P.p.s Angelina Jolie then copied me…she always did want to look like me!

    • 23rd May 2016 / 10:33 am

      You are amazing, thank you Ruth! You are completely spot on with asking “how are you today?” because the answer can be massively different from one day to the next. And yeeees to humour! Laugh with me, make fun and lighten a rubbish situation, make me laugh and I’ll love you forever! Again, you are amazing and I know you completely get where I’m coming from, lots of love to you, you’re a super star – that Angelina is a copy cat :) x

  6. 15th May 2016 / 7:20 am

    So I hated when my mother in law was diagnosed with lung cancer, people would ask, “was she a smoker?’ Like, if the answer was yes, she ‘deserved’ it.Thanks for giving me a great insight into what not to say…especially that tip about silence…

    • 16th May 2016 / 2:28 pm

      OOh I can just imagine people saying that and I can imagine how it made you feel – some people! x

  7. 15th May 2016 / 12:03 am

    Oh no, I hope I haven’t fallen foul of any of these already! Apologies if so! I can’t believe someone actually said ‘you have to stay alive for your children’… whaaattt?!! #thelist

    • 16th May 2016 / 2:28 pm

      You have not and don’t worry if you have because it’s better to say these than nothing at all :) x x

    • 14th May 2016 / 2:22 pm

      Ha ha I know! At least they mean well though :) x

  8. 13th May 2016 / 7:51 pm

    So, the one about saying “my (whoever) had that and they died” while that sounds shocking, it must be quite common, because it explains this conversation I had recently. I got talking to a woman outside of a hospital where I was visiting and she was waiting for her lift. It came up that she had throat cancer and was being treated. I said “oh, my dad had that” and she said “and let me guess, he died”. I was a little taken aback but explained that no, he’s perfectly fine. At the time I put it down to her maybe being afraid but perhaps she had just heard that all too often!

    • 13th May 2016 / 8:17 pm

      Ah yes – I’m surprised how much it’s said! They definitely don’t mean any harm but it kind of trips off the tongue. I suppose people know more people who died from cancer than survived maybe – which will hopefully change a lot as the years go on :) x

  9. 13th May 2016 / 3:47 pm

    My friend who has cancer says the worst is when people tell her she is so STRONG or to stay STRONG! Her timeline was filled it, in the end we used to have a joke about it. I’m sending her this, she will like it X #TheList

    • 16th May 2016 / 2:27 pm

      I hope it makes her laugh :) Oh yes I get that one too! x

  10. 13th May 2016 / 5:41 am

    This actually made me laugh at points – probably not the intention but… It’s only hair! Seriously? It’s such a big part of our identity and I am willing yours to grow back as soon as possible! x

    • 13th May 2016 / 10:46 am

      I’m glad you laughed, it’s meant to be a bit light-hearted rather than too ranty :) come on hair, I’m over being bald now ha ha! x x

  11. 12th May 2016 / 11:34 pm

    Bloody brilliant post.
    I’m fairly sure I said “I’m so sorry” when I found out. But also I remember when my dad died (not from cancer) and people said they were sorry and I was like “yeah me bloody too!”
    Would “I’m sorry you’re going through this” be a better thing to say?
    I can understand why people say nothing; there was a time when I probably would have said nothing too, out of sheer terror that I’d say the wrong thing. Or do the terribly embarrassing and selfish thing of crying when someone else is the one who’s going through hell!

    • 13th May 2016 / 10:49 am

      Yes yes yes that’s a perfect thing to say! It’s when it’s kind of left hanging at “I’m so sorry…” that I kind of think, oh right thanks?! It takes a LOT of courage to say something at all though and I’d be happy with any of the above rather than silence x x

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