10 Things Not to Say to a Family Battling Cancer

Between the shock of receiving a cancer diagnosis and the sh*tshow of treatment, you begin to share the news with loved ones. Since Jeff and I have been through this rodeo twice (head and neck cancer, 2006 and prostate cancer, 2014) we’ve learned that most people want to know as much about the details as you’re comfortable sharing: What stage? What are the treatment options? What are next steps?

This is about the time you start to hear all sorts of cancer stories and advice. Most are helpful, hopeful and supportive. And then, there’s the comment that leaves you wondering why.


Most of these were said with the best of intentions (I hope). And, I know not everyone knows what to say when faced with scary news. My hope is that this might help others stop. think. and then respond with a more supportive option.


Here’s the tour of our top 10:


#10. “Well, if you’re going to get cancer, at least it’s not (insert type of) cancer. I hear that type of cancer is really deadly.” 

All cancers are capable of killing.


#9. “My (grandpa, uncle, etc.) died of cancer – it was really horrible. At the end, he was all bones and was in so much pain.  It was just awful.” 


#8. “I know what you mean. My neighbor’s son was just diagnosed with bone cancer and he’s 30 years old. Can you believe that? I mean that’s so young. I feel so bad for him.”


#7. “So, now that treatment is done, you guys can move on and forget this ever happened, right?”

No. And especially no when someone is battling metastatic disease.


#6. “Please call me and let me know how I can help” 

To help a family battling cancer don’t wait for the phone to ring. Pick it up and put it out there. And keep calling. I promise it makes a big difference.


#5: “I don’t know how you guys are getting through all of this. It’s just so horrible.” 


#4: “I hope things go well for you both with your cancer journey.” 

Yeah, it’s a journey alright. Want to hop on for the ride?


#3: “Stay positive and focus on fighting” 

Usually said in passing or at the end of a conversation. This is our favorite.


#2: “Be strong” 

I promise you, we’re fighting to stay alive.


#1: How long before you’re cured? 

Metastatic disease is not curable.


For more tips, check out: 5 Ways to Bring Relief to a Family Battling Cancer

2 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Say to a Family Battling Cancer

  1. So true! Someone told me, “Don’t worry, it will be okay, just eat healthy and trust your body. Positive thinking can get you through this. I understand what you’re going through because I have a prolapse.” The relationship with the person was more important than how I felt about the comment, so I just smiled and moved on.

    1. Hi Jules – thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. You showed internal strength and compassion when you smiled and moved on! Here’s to eating our broccoli 😉

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