5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Cancer

March 14, 2021
Ron Cooper
Ron Cooper

Ron Cooper writes about the funny and serious sides of cancer. He is the author of “A Grateful Survivor” (Amazon) and blogs at RonCooperAuthor.com. Come along for the ride on his cancer journey!

Never say to someone that at least they have a “good” kind of cancer or that they don’t really look that sick, writes one cancer survivor.

Let me be blunt. It’s hard enough traveling this rocky cancer journey without hearing remarks that sink our spirits and leave us to toss and turn at night. Cancer folks, especially those of us with a fresh diagnosis to haunt us on sleepless nights, are especially vulnerable to some comments.

Don’t get me wrong. Those who care about us want to do and say just the right thing at the appropriate time. Many of them know instinctively they’re tiptoeing around landmines when they merely open their mouths with hearts full of good intentions. Yet, sometimes they stub their toes in their efforts to sound encouraging.

Here are five things that a patient with cancer should never have to hear:

“Well, at least you have the ‘good’ kind of cancer”

Cancer survivors know fully well that some cancers, if caught early enough, can be contained and even cured. Other cancers are much more aggressive and difficult to detect in the early stages, which can bode poorly for the patient.

But we also know that all cancers are potential killers and there’s nothing “good” about any of them. So, well-meaning people who want to impart hopefulness can instead create a boatload of anxiety.

“Do they know what caused your cancer? Too much sugar maybe?”

Pardon my French, but who the hell cares what caused this monstrosity to enter my life? I am not going on a lifelong search for the answer. Why? I may have countless doctors’ appointments ahead of me, likely including some form of intervention such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Frankly, I have neither the time nor even the tiniest inclination to look deeper into the cause. The reality of cancer suffocates me and I’m just trying to come up for air. When you think about it, this kind of question is just idle chatter. But as a patient with cancer, I deserve much better than this kind of query.

“How far along is your cancer?”

This question hits a raw nerve, especially for someone who has just been thunderstruck with the shocking words, “You have cancer.” The stage of someone’s cancer is extremely personal information and talking about it can sear you to the core. Let the patient/survivor choose when to address this bombshell question and with whom to share it.

“You really don’t look that sick”

God love them, people who voice this comment are just trying to make us feel better. But they don’t know the unvarnished truth: Cancer operates in the shadows. It is relentless. Think of it as a wrestling match. You pin your opponent to the mat and score a point, only to become the one losing the upper hand moments later. It’s a tug-of-war for your very precious life.

Another thing: Not all active treatment for cancer causes a change in your physical appearance. But in every case, bar none, cancer carries out a sinister attack on your fragile emotions. That’s where the deepest scars emerge.

“God must have a plan for you!”

Stop the presses! From the initial diagnosis, I started an intense conversation with God. You see, the two of us had it out and I don’t want to cover that ground again – at least not now. Maybe later when things calm down and I can try to bring my faith back into the picture. So, be safe, not sorry, when it comes to faith when keeping company with a person who has cancer. Let them bring up this extremely delicate topic.

So there you have it. People with cancer need soothing, heartfelt words of support, that’s for sure. Just please be careful to avoid loaded expressions that can be easily misinterpreted. In short, so much depends upon the right words at just the right time. I trust you will get this right!

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