Hi, I’m Mim! I’m a planning-obsessed, Award-Winning Online Business Owner, Author and 5-Star Planner Sticker Seller.
I help new sticker makers create planner stickers from scratch that stand out and sell … even if you’ve never made a sticker before!

8 Things NOT to Say to Someone with Cancer

I’ve deliberated for some time as to whether to write this post on the things not to say to someone with cancer.

When it comes to what to say to people with cancer, I really do understand how hard it can be for you to find the words.

And I just didn’t want to offend anyone by writing this.

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.

But what do you say to someone who has cancer?

Well, here are eight things NOT to say to someone with cancer – or not to me please :)

If your friend has cancer and is undergoing treatment, you might love this gift idea for Cancer Patients. It's lovely to buy them something that is comforting and will make them feel special.
Positive words of encouragement for cancer patients are a must!

The WRONG words for someone with cancer

1.  I’m so sorry

I’ll start with the most common phrase used on what to say to someone just diagnosed with cancer.

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 it 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.

My Friend Has Cancer eBook by Mim Jenkinson
My Friend Has Cancer eBook by Mim Jenkinson

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. This is not how to support a friend with cancer, it just makes them feel bad.

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.

These are only comforting words for cancer patients if it will actually help them. I do get that you’re just doing your best at supporting someone with cancer though.

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.

This is not what to say to a friend with cancer.

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.

I know you think these are uplifting words for cancer patients but it doesn’t come across that way.

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 its moments of being anything but positive and happy. I’m trying though, I’m getting through it.

I do like it when people commend me for already being positive though – this is lovely positive reinforcement of my, um, positivity. Words of encouragement for cancer patients are much needed by many.

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 at 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.

Saying nothing doesn’t send a positive message for cancer patient. Words of encouragement for cancer patients are needed to just let them know they’re not alone.

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.

Knowing how to support someone with cancer is hard.

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.

Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer

I hope my tips on what to say to someone diagnosed with cancer has helped.

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. Messages for cancer patients can be just quick check ins.

What to write to someone with cancer

If you’re wondering what to write to someone who has cancer in a message, I would recommend asking them how they are today and if there’s anything you can do to help them. I know it isn’t easy otherwise to find the words for a message to someone with cancer – but they’ll be grateful you tried.

For ideas on what to write in a card for someone with cancer, I would just try to convey that you love them and you’re there for them.

Getting a card for someone with cancer is a lovely idea. Knowing how to encourage someone with cancer is all about making them feel less alone and hopeless.

You might have some words of encouragement for healing even.

Gift Ideas for someone with cancer

You can also get ideas for gifts for someone with cancer here. I’ve suggested five thoughtful gifts for someone with cancer – I personalised loved these gifts. They might help you with ideas on what to send someone with cancer.

I hope you now have some ideas for what not to say to a cancer patient.

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 who has cancer, you might find this post on what to say to a cancer patient helpful. It has tips on what to say to someone going through chemo too.

If you or a loved one would like to know how to help someone with cancer, get in touch with Cancer Council NSW here. They have phenomenal support for cancer patients and cancer support for families. They are also available for help with how to help a friend with cancer.

Do you have any tips on what to say to someone with cancer? Or any ideas for encouraging words for someone with cancer?

My Friend Has Cancer eBook by Mim Jenkinson
My Friend Has Cancer eBook by Mim Jenkinson

Read next:


Want to know what to say to someone who has cancer? Here are eight things not to say to someone with cancer from a breast cancer survivor. These tips on what to say to someone with cancer will really help. #cancer #cancerpatient #cancerquotes #cancerinspiration #cancersurvivor

I hope my tips on the things NOT to say to someone with cancer has helped you.



  1. Christine
    / 6:25 pm

    When I told my, (now ex), best friend I had breast cancer she said, “That’s not a big deal! Breast cancer is treatable! You’ll be fine!”.
    I haven’t heard from her since. I was ghosted by almost everyone I thought was my friend, and by my four siblings, as well.
    Also, after I lost my hair, several people told me
    I was lucky that I had such a nicely shaped head.

    • / 12:38 pm

      The ghosting still surprises me now! I’m so sorry that it happened to you too and I’m sending so much love to you x

  2. Valerie
    / 5:08 pm

    I have heard the “It’s only hair” comment. Thanks a lot! Losing my hair was adding insult to injury. I have heard the “I am sorry.” comment often. The one I find the most thoughtless is when someone (even a doctor) says, “Well, we are all going to die.” Really? Seriously? I want to say how dare you rob me of my hope with these words! I find this one very dismissive. No one knows one’s fate and no one knows what may arise in trials and cures. I don’t tell many folks that I am ill. I am busy living, not dying,

    • / 5:11 pm

      Oh yes I’ve heard that one too! Love that – yes we are busy living :) x

  3. Jan
    / 7:09 pm

    This made me reflect on a lot of conversations I’ve had, before my own diagnosis and since, I was diagnosed with CLL a few years ago and I appreciate that people don’t know what to say, but it does teach us to think about what we say!!!
    I’ve had, “Oh that’s a good cancer to get!”
    “ I know someone who had that, they lived for 8 years after diagnosis” , “ be positive, think about your grandchildren”, “ are you going to book a holiday anymore?” or they don’t mention it at all, ignore and it will go away! I’ve a really long term friend who always asks how I got on at my consultant appt ( 3 monthly monitoring) and her response is always, “ fantastic, fab news!” At this point I’ve usually been sat in Oncology for a few hours surrounded by cancer posters and leaflets, patients with chemo side effects, patients receiving treatment and I think to myself then, others have no idea of the physical and mental effects of cancer. I guess we have to remember how hard it is to know what to say, but I think a simple “ how are you today?” is the best, because everyday is different, tomorrow isn’t promised, and yesterday happened! Sending loving vibes to all those effected, hope today is a good day!

    • / 9:41 am

      Hello Jan and YES – all you’ve said resonates with me so much. Even a few years on, all I want is people to ask “how are you today?”. They don’t need to have the magic words – and they can hold the horror stories! Sending you so much love! x x

  4. Emilie
    / 4:57 am

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

    • / 1:45 pm

      Ha ha I know, right! x

  5. Angela Milnes
    / 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

    • / 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

  6. / 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

    • / 2:24 pm

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

  7. Katie Roberts-Mason
    / 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

    • / 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

  8. Topfivemum
    / 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!

    • / 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

  9. Anna Brophy
    / 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…

    • / 2:28 pm

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

  10. / 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

    • / 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

  11. Laura @ Life with Baby Kicks
    / 1:42 pm

    Wow, I can’t believe that people tell you these things!! Foot in mouth or what???x

    • / 2:22 pm

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

  12. Random Musings
    / 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!

    • / 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

  13. Laura - dear bear and beany
    / 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

    • / 2:27 pm

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

      • Mel
        / 2:55 am

        Mim, Help me because I’m trying to get it right and I read your articles on both what to say or not to say. You mentioned to be positive and encouraging was best. I could see how if one feels weak, everyone saying stay “strong” over and over might seem ridiculous or get old … but on the other hand, is this not a positive, affirming thing to say? I had understood that affirming someone’s positivity is good even if the family member or patient trying to put on a positive face each day (75% of the time?), as you mentioned. Is being “strong” or “appearing strong” that different and not to be affirmed? Honest questions. It’s just the more I read now I’m not sure what to say…. So far I got “how are you doing today, ____” but how does one navigate encouragement without dismissiveness?

        • / 3:48 pm

          Hi Mel – firstly, I love how much you care x x So, positivity is always good when it’s coming from great intentions such as yours. It can only sound dismissive (in my opinion) when it isn’t coming from that place or isn’t backed up with more. E.g. someone saying “just stay positive!” by itself is pointless – of COURSE they are trying to stay positive and if they were not feeling positive then someone telling them that like an order is flippant.

          But positivity could be shown in positive reinforcement – such as “you are so strong and I am here for you every step of the way” is both positive and backed up with an offer of support. Make sense?

  14. Donna
    / 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

    • / 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

  15. Vicky Charles
    / 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!

    • / 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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