Tips for the Family and Friends of a Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patient


Cancer does not mean a death sentence. Many of us are walking around, living life with cancer.

Having been living with the c-word for just a short time, I have learned a few things. One, people are so very afraid of the word cancer. It’s just a word so stop giving it so much damn power. Yes, I have to pinch myself several times a day and say "I have cancer, I can't believe it."

Unfortunately, I am not special. Far too many people out there are fighting, surviving or have defeated it. That’s the truth. So yes, I will use the word — frequently, if necessary — it’s just a word.

I have also learned that there are some very interesting perspectives and reactions out there when it comes to cancer (I just said it again). People get really, really uncomfortable with it. I, too, was one of those people before I joined the club. So here are some of my observations coming from my own experience (so far):

  1. Cancer does not mean a death sentence. Many of us are walking around, living life with cancer. We are going through treatment, surgeries, recovering from surgeries, dozens of doctors' appointments, scans and bloodwork, but we are still here fighting. So please, we know how serious it is without everyone we know turning it into that word you whisper. On the flip side, please respect the seriousness of it. A true cure is rare — it's a complicated and complex disease.
  2. For those who don't have to whisper the word and can acknowledge it out loud, please do me a favor and remember that cancer is not a (insert expletive here) journey. A journey sounds like something you signed up to do on purpose like a family vacation or a road trip across the country. A journey could also be that long run where you took a wrong turn and it ended up even longer. Those are journeys. Cancer, though it is an adventure, it is not fun and it is not the journey I signed up for. If you do use "journey," I will forgive you and I will pray that I never used the word in regards to someone else's cancer diagnosis.
  3. Cancer is a big waiting game. We are waiting for results, waiting for phone calls, waiting for appointments, waiting for a cure. I think it’s fair to say most of us are tired of waiting, and we all have different ways of dealing with it, so please understand that we all react differently. Some people want to talk about their feelings, have long crys and hot tea. I, myself, opt for a stiff drink, some great music and would prefer to sit somewhere outside by a fire not talking about cancer while I am waiting. On occasion, I may be prone to tell slightly inappropriate cancer jokes about my experience thus far, but no, don’t expect me to start designing "funny cancer cards." I’m not interested in creating or collecting any cancer memorabilia.
  4. For me, it is a huge lesson in the value of the day but please, do not take that as a reason not to talk to me or anyone with cancer over life’s annoyances. Life is hard, we all have our challenges on a day-to-day basis. I work a full-time job with three busy kids and I will still complain about making lunches every night. Cancer has not stolen that from me. It's OK to be human with someone who might be going through cancer treatment and recovery. If all you do is complain, though, that's another story ...
  5. Show up. Cancer is a scary and loney thing for a person to go through, even with people showing up. You are stuck in your head, alone, thinking about cancer. So please, show up in some form — even if it's a simple text message. If someone you know is diagnosed, please at least send some kind of message over social media. I think people may be so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all. If you are someone who is a friend and you said nothing at all, that is far worse than every person that wished me well on my cancer "journey" and told me about the cool cancer compression sleeves I could wear. Saying nothing at all may be the worst thing you can do. We will forgive you, though, because life is too short for that nonsense.

I understand that someone else may feel completely different than I do. I only know my experience over the past six months of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. I am fortunate that I have many friends and family members who were there for me in some way. And I am thankful to have heard all the right things that were said and wrong things that were said. I am blessed to have had the people in my life show up.

Related Videos
Image of Dr. Jorge Cortes; a man with short dark hair wearing a suit.
Image of a man with brown hair.
Image of a woman with short brown hair and glasses.
Image of a woman with short brown hair and glasses.
Image of a man with brown hair and a suit and tie.
Image of a woman with brown bobbed hair with glasses.
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, and Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, experts on CLL
Yuliya P.L Linhares, MD, and Josie Montegaard, MSN, AGPCNP-BC, experts on CLL
Image of Dr. Minesh Mehta at ASCO 2024.
Related Content