How to talk to someone with Cancer

How to talk to someone with Cancer

Knowing how to talk to someone with cancer can be terrifying and made even harder when you know and are close to that person.

Will you know what to say?  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.

My breast cancer diagnosis has set in and my treatment has started and I’ve had some time to think about some of the messages I’ve loved reading – the hundreds from family, friends, colleagues, blogging friends, amazing readers, complete strangers, medical professionals, everyone!

How to talk to someone with Cancer - Triple Negative Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Radiotherapy What Not to say to someone with Cancer The right thing to say to someone with cancer

Image Source: Pixabay

I just want to caveat this post with hoping, as always, to not come across as bossy or ungrateful.  It’s your perfect messages that have given the inspiration for this post to hopefully help others speak to their loved ones about cancer when they might not know what to say.  Of course what works for me might not for someone else but I hope this helps a little at least :)

So, 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 :)  (This is NOT a hint, I do not want any friends to shave their heads for me!)

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 professionals 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.  Cancer does not simply effect 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.

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.

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.

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.  Use positive words.  Tell them how loved they are.

If you don’t know what to say or what to do for the best, ask them.  They will tell you.

With that support and love, the cancer has no chance of survival but believe me, those friendships will survive and they will last forever.

I love each and every one one of you who has reached out to me.  I’m just so grateful.  Watch me beat this with your help :)

How to talk to someone with Cancer - Triple Negative Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Radiotherapy What Not to say to someone with Cancer The right thing to say to someone with cancer

Image Source: Pixabay

Linked to You Baby Me Mummy and Mr & Mrs T Plus Three



  1. 22nd December 2015 / 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!

    • 22nd December 2015 / 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

  2. 22nd December 2015 / 11:53 pm

    Thank you for this post xxx

    • 22nd December 2015 / 11:56 pm

      Thank you lovely x x

  3. Robyn
    23rd December 2015 / 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.

    • 23rd December 2015 / 8:42 am

      Thank you lovely! x x

  4. 31st December 2015 / 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

    • 1st January 2016 / 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

  5. 1st January 2016 / 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

    • 1st January 2016 / 10:36 pm

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

  6. 1st January 2016 / 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

    • 1st January 2016 / 11:10 pm

      Thank you so so much Catie! x x

  7. 2nd January 2016 / 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.

    • 2nd January 2016 / 8:38 am

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

  8. 2nd January 2016 / 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

    • 2nd January 2016 / 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

  9. 3rd January 2016 / 9:30 pm

    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

    • 3rd January 2016 / 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

  10. 4th January 2016 / 9:20 pm

    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

    • 4th January 2016 / 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

  11. 5th January 2016 / 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

    • 5th January 2016 / 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

  12. 7th January 2016 / 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

    • 7th January 2016 / 10:28 am

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

  13. 7th January 2016 / 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

    • 7th January 2016 / 10:27 am

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

  14. 7th January 2016 / 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.

    • 7th January 2016 / 10:27 am

      Thank you Sadia! x x

  15. 20th January 2016 / 6:52 am

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

    • 20th January 2016 / 11:35 am

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

  16. Helen
    29th January 2016 / 10:09 am

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

    • 29th January 2016 / 7:05 pm

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

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