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What to Say to Someone who has Cancer

Knowing what to say to someone who has cancer can be terrifying and made even harder when you know and are close to that person.

What do you say to someone who has cancer? How do you know what is the right thing to say? Is there even a right thing to say.

Firstly, I want to thank absolutely everyone who has taken the time to contact me after hearing about my breast cancer diagnosis – as well as appreciating your beautiful words of positivity and encouragement, I just think it takes so much strength and guts to send those messages when most of you probably didn’t have a clue what to say to me. Thank you, thank you! Thank you for having the courage and for taking the time to reach out to me.

But how do you know what to say to someone with cancer? Or know the best words of encouragement for cancer patients?

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

Here are my tips on what to say to someone diagnosed with cancer:

Man and woman holding hands

How to Talk to Someone with Cancer

In no particular order, here are a few tips on how to talk to someone with cancer:

1. Fine doesn’t always mean Fine

Try not to assume they’re fine because they say they are – assume they’re not fine but they do not want to talk about it for one reason or another.

Make suggestions of ways you could help if they ever want you to in the future – calling to say Hi, looking after kids, helping to cook, drop offs or pick ups from appointments etc. Keep the conversation going by keeping in touch. They might just be waiting for the right time when they’re ready to open up and ask for help.

2. Remember it isn’t ‘Just Hair’ that they might lose, it’s Their Hair

That hair is a part of them so try not to be too dismissive. Offer sympathy, don’t bombard them with ideas of how they should deal with the hair loss.

Ask if they have a plan of how to manage it, ask if they want you to do any research for them, or to go to the hairdressers or help choose a wig.

Offer to shave your own hair off! They won’t take you up on it but they’ll be blown away that you’ve offered.

Just, um, be prepared to follow through if they DO take you up on it! And what a bloody brilliant person you are if you do ha ha!

3. Hold the horror stories

Never ever ever ever give bad news stories about others you know who did not do well with cancer. In fact, try to only talk about positive stories of those who you know personally who survived and are living happily cancer free now.

4. Always ask permission before offering any advice

I’ve had some amazing suggestions from friends and family on different treatment plans to research, diet advice, how to lift my mood if I feel down – all sorts of wonderful things I would never have thought of. The best part is, they’ve asked me first if I actually want to hear their recommendations and I’ve welcomed them.

Some might only be interested in following their medical professional’s advice and otherwise keeping it simple so bear that in mind if you have any suggestions and ask first if they want to hear them. Don’t be offended if they say no, it’s the person who is fighting cancer who will ultimately decide on their plan of attack and they should do it their own way.

5. Stay positive – as much as you possibly can

I know it’s sometimes much easier said than done but speak positively as much as possible. Don’t tell them how sad you are, how awful it is, how you’re scared for them – these are your emotions to deal with.

You’re completely entitled to them and they’re so legitimate but try not to inflict them on to that person.

Except in the early diagnosis days of course when let’s face it, everyone’s a balling mess! There are also bound to be other times you all break down together along the way.

Do make sure you look after your own mental well-being by talking to your other friends and family and stay positive for yourself.

Supporting someone with cancer is tough. And it does not simply affect the person diagnosed with it, it’s everyone close to them too. Be kind to yourself. Try to keep a positive outlook for you as well as them.

6. Spare some time to help those close to the person with Cancer

Don’t forget those also affected – the partner, children, parents, best friends, carers. Think about what you might be able to do to offer support to them.

Check in with them and be positive – they do not want to hear negativity either.

Listen to them, let them open up to you, offer counsel if you can. Offer support and kindness and someone they can unburden their feelings and fears on so they don’t bottle it all up.

These kind of things go a long way with how to support a friend with cancer.

I’ll take this opportunity to tell you all how absolutely, wonderfully amazing my husband has been throughout this whole process. I always knew he had strength but with me being the, ahem, bossier of the two of us he probably didn’t always get a chance to show just how strong he could be. I love you very much Mr M and honestly you amaze me constantly with your love and support and understanding. I digress!

The three biggest things I suppose I’m aiming to achieve by blogging about my cancer journey is raising awareness to all who might be reading and encouraging them to do all they can to not be in the position that I’m in.

Check your boobs. Women and men. Check each other boobs (with permission) – go for your lives.

Secondly, I want to try my best to take the fear out of a cancer diagnosis. Not that I’m not scared because of course, I am. But I’m also feeling so positive and hopeful and I’m focusing on healing myself.

Thirdly, this is a place for me to find therapy in writing. It’s a wonderful bonus that some of you are reading my posts! At the same time, just remember that you might not agree with everything I say and do and that’s 100% fine. This is just my way of dealing with a tricky situation.

What to Say to Someone who has Cancer Cards and Gifts

You do not need to be too scared to reach out to someone with cancer. You might need to tip toe a little bit in the early days when everyone is taking in the news.

My biggest advice is to please be present – make that friend or loved one know that you are 100% there for them from day one right through to full healing for anything they need and then keep telling them that.  Back it up, offer to help, tell them you love them, be positive but not blasé. Don’t disappear.

Related: What Not to Say to Someone with Cancer (because when you’re thinking of what to say to people with cancer, it’s easy to get it wrong).

Messages for Cancer Patients

What to Write to Someone who has Cancer

If you’re sending a message to someone with cancer, a text or a card, fill it with love and positive thoughts. Get well wishes for cancer patients can leave you wondering what to write.

What are the right words for cancer patients?

It’s hard to know what to say to cancer patients for encouragement.

But try to keep their spirits up, make them laugh, forgive their mood swings and memory loss and sad days.

Cry with them, then distract them from their fears and pick them up again. When thinking about what to write to someone with cancer, make sure to use positive words.

Tell them how loved they are. These are really comforting words for someone with cancer.

Related: What not to say to a cancer patient

An example of what to write in a card for someone with cancer:

“Dear ___ I want you to know that I’m here for you, for whatever you need. I love you and I think you’re amazing”

Humorous words of encouragement for cancer patients will come over time possibly when they’re feeling stronger.

When choosing a card for someone with cancer, I would suggest looking for one with a bright, postitive image – nothing sad.

If you don’t know what to say to a cancer patient or what to say to someone going through chemo, just ask them. If the words for someone with cancer don’t come to you, they will tell you what they need if you ask.

Thoughtful Gifts for Someone with Cancer

I’ve shared five thoughtful gifts for cancer patients here.

The gift ideas for someone with cancer in this list are the ones I received and really loved.

I also think hamper are a lovely idea if you’re wondering what to send to someone with cancer who is going through chemo.

For cancer support for families and other ways on how to support someone with cancer, contact Cancer Council NSW here. They have some great advice and resources for cancer patients and for those supporting a friend with cancer.

I hope this has given you ideas for words of encouragement for cancer patients and their families. When you don’t know what to say to a person with cancer, remember that you can simply ask them what they need.

Can you share any encouraging words for someone with cancer?

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

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I'm sharing what to say to someone with cancer and how you can help a friend with cancer. As a breast cancer survivor, I know what to say to a cancer patient and what not to say to someone with cancer too. #cancer #cancerpatient #cancersupport #cancerresources

I hope my ideas for what to say to someone who has cancer has helped you know how to help someone with cancer.

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32 Comments

  1. Helen
    / 10:09 am

    I found this so helpful. It is in our family at the moment. Thank you for sharing. X

    • / 7:05 pm

      I hope this helps a little Helen and I wish you and your family all the best x

  2. / 6:52 am

    So important you’ve written this darling, it will help so many. Here for you xx

    • / 11:35 am

      Thank you so so much lovely – I hope it does help someone :) x

  3. / 10:25 am

    This is such wonderfully thoughtful advice, and not just for cancer, but for any tough situation: miscarriage, infertility, divorce. Well, the hair piece doesn’t apply too those circumstances, but the rest of it does.

    • / 10:27 am

      Thank you Sadia! x x

  4. You Baby Me Mummy
    / 8:07 am

    This is such a generous and helpful post hun. My mum is a survivor, you are all very brave. Thanks for linking up to #TheList xxxx

    • / 10:27 am

      Thank you lovely lady and I’m so delighted for your mum! :) x x

  5. Claire at Tin Box Traveller
    / 6:36 am

    Great post Mim and I think it is such a good guide to anyone who’s unsure of how to talk to a friend or relative about any kind of bad news. Being positive, laughing and hugs are how my family has gotten through some pretty tough times in the past xx

    • / 10:28 am

      Thank you beautiful! Love and hugs cures a LOT! x x

  6. Su {Ethan & Evelyn}
    / 11:25 am

    Hello, Thank you for this post. My mum is a breast cancer survivor. She is an amazing woman. You are right there when they say they are fine. In fact, none of my family member told me about this as they don’t want me to worry. I live in the UK. She lives in Thailand. I only found out about it when I went back for my holiday and saw that she has cut her hair. She did not flinch a word. She is one tough cookie! Now, that my sister is diagnose with lung cancer – my mum said to give for her plenty of support – all the love we can give her. I am going to see my sister in April and I can’t wait to see her. My sister is also my boy’s God Mother too and they have not seen each other for two years now. Very excited! I think big hugs is in order. :) & Big Hugs to you too! Xxx

    • / 11:56 am

      Thank you and I’m am so happy to hear about your wonderful mum! I am sending so much positivity and love to your sister and seeing you and her god son is going to be amazing for her! x x

  7. Fab post. I wrote a similar one about the better things to say to someone who is grieving – in fact the points are pretty much the same except for the obvious key words. People can be so worried about saying the ‘wrong’ thing they say nothing…or blurt something completely inappropriate. Good to be open because most people want to help, so it’s useful for folk to have some guidance xxx #thelist

    • / 10:05 pm

      Thanks lovely :) gosh I bet there are so many things the same when it comes to saying the wrong thing – and the right thing of course :) x x

  8. It really is tricky knowing what to say in this situation. A close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and we found the best thing was humour, I think it really helped that we could have a giggle about silly things! Wishing you lots of luck and happiness in 2016 xx #thelist

    • / 9:32 pm

      Humour is by far the best! Well, for me anyway! There is already so much to be sad about but laughing is the perfect remedy :) Thank you lovely x

  9. H
    / 8:58 am

    Your blog post is absolutely amazing!

    I’ve often thought, in general, not just relating to cancer about how to be/act/say when something so devastating happens to them. I never know quite how to even channel the fact that I want to be there for them.

    The helping around the house point is a very good point as people need help with it through any great affliction.

    I hope you get better chicka – remember you’re always stronger than you think you are! :) x

    • / 9:03 am

      Thank you so so much! I’m going to hold on to your last point as I think you’re so right with that :) x

  10. Bear and Cardigan
    / 1:55 am

    Well done for writing such an uplifting post. It’s always difficult to know what to say. I have quite a few friends who have had breast cancer, note the have had! Yes they are through the chemo and surgery, some are through the 5+ years too. All are doing great. Every now and again we have a heart to heart, that’s what I’m there for. I listen. I give my opinion only when asked. I hug when they need it. Also we laugh, we laugh a lot. Now I have some great ideas of what to say when I get stuck. Thankyou. Happy New Year.

    • / 8:38 am

      Thank you so so much! And I just love hearing how people are through it, beat it, surviving – thank you :) x

  11. Catie: An imperfect mum
    / 10:40 pm

    Such a great post and you are right it is difficult to know what to say. Wishing you continued strength and positivity x

    • / 11:10 pm

      Thank you so so much Catie! x x

  12. Lisa (mummascribbles)
    / 10:29 pm

    This is an amazing post that will help so many people Mim. I am one that wouldn’t really know what to say – in fact when my mum’s neighbour was diagnosed I tried not to see her – because the first question you tend to ask people you haven’t seen for a while is how are you but that question didn’t seem right and I didn’t know what else to say. This is a massive help for the future – because there is always someone going through this! Thanks for sharing chick. #TheList

    • / 10:36 pm

      Oh thank you lovely :) that’s exactly what I hoped to achieve from writing it all down :) x

  13. Mother Mands
    / 11:32 am

    Great post! ;) My favourite people to be around when I had breast cancer were the ones who treated me no differently, who still laughed and joked with me and took the micky out of me. Feeling ‘normal’ was all I wanted! Though I personally did enjoy being bald for a while and didn’t wear a wig, instead I went for a androgynous look :) loosing your nasal hair is freaky though, no-one ever warns you about that, my nose ran all the time!

    It’s great to see your positive attitude! Sending you even more positive vibes X

    • / 8:35 pm

      Thank you lovely! Ha ha I didn’t even consider losing my nasal hair – God the things we go through!!! x x

  14. Robyn
    / 5:33 am

    Great post Mim, very comprehensive & helpful. Thanks so much for sharing all the lessons you’re learning along the way, this will be enormously helpful for others who are trying to support a loved one with cancer.

    • / 8:42 am

      Thank you lovely! x x

  15. Clare
    / 11:53 pm

    Thank you for this post xxx

    • / 11:56 pm

      Thank you lovely x x

  16. lu @ looking for mama me
    / 9:46 pm

    thanks Mim :) My 21year old brother in law was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma last week, I’m still not sure what to say to him. Sending some positive thoughts to you too, thanks for sharing your strength!

    • / 9:49 pm

      Gosh what a shock for you and your family – my heart goes out to you. If he (or any of you) needs any support let me know as I can recommend some great support services – Cancer Council’s Helpline is there for all of you on 13 11 20 and they are AMAZING and a great first port of call. Let me know if you want anyone to chat to about it too. It’s very early days for you all just finding out and you’re all finding your feet x x

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I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land I work and live on, the Awabakal peoples, and pay my respects to Elders past and present.
I thank them wholeheartedly and express my love and gratitude for the privilege to live and work in such a beautiful part of the world and for the opportunity for my family to be part of this vibrant and supportive community.