What to Say to Someone Who Has Cancer?

Serious health conditions and diseases often call for changes in lives of both patients and their loved ones. Cancer patients need a lot of support from their family members and friends, but they don’t need others people pity. When faced with a cancer, patients may experience a wide range of emotions, from complete indifference, over anger and despair, to numbness and depression. Their loved ones seem to go through the same difficulties, in terms of emotion management. Knowing that a dear person is seriously ill, sometimes with fatal prognosis, surely makes an individual feel desperate.

However, if you find yourself in such unwanted situation, it is you who need to offer a support and remain strong.

No one has an appropriate guidebook to deal with a cancer patient, when it is about someone you care for.

There are, however, ways to deal with the situation. It is of a vital importance to behave in a way that won’t hurt the person emotionally and make his or her own problems even worse.

It is also very important to save your own mind and emotions; if you act rationally and supportive, you could help a person in need a lot. There is a big difference between giving in and compassion.

Approaching the person with cancer

If you recently found out someone you know has cancer, a friend or a family member, you would certainly feel shocked and sad. It is important to prepare yourself for a conversation with the person. The first thing you should do is to calm yourself down, try to relax and think rationally. No one would like to see you falling apart, especially if his or her health condition is a cause of it. It may make the person feel guilty, even if you don’t wish them to. The seriousness of the disease will certainly affect your emotions and behavior, naturally. Try to keep calm and approach gently and normally.

You must understand dealing with serious or life threatening disease could trigger a wide range of emotions, sometimes completely irrational and illogical to expect. A person suffering from cancer may feel angry, desperate, helpless, confused. Sometimes they find difficult to manage their emotion expressions and would just let it out, no matter the consequences. It is essential to stay supportive and practical. Do not fall for the extremity of the patient’s expressions, even if you find them tough or even scary. Your presence should be comforting and supportive.

Starting a conversation

You should always let the person set the tone of the conversation. Sometimes people with cancer don’t want to talk at all; sometimes they appear joyful, sometimes angry or sad.

As we’ve already mentioned, be ready for any of those behavior patterns. Dealing with cancer is difficult, so some people are not able to process the diagnosis in the first place. They act cheerful, instead of being sad, because they still cannot accept the fact they are seriously ill.

Others are angry and confused, they might yell at you or such, even if you have nothing to do with the cancer itself. Other times, your friend or relative may seem deeply sad and depressed. You’d better know what to say after they start or not.

You could simply and normally ask whether the person wants to talk about the disease or not. Follow their lead and don’t insist. If they’re start to talk about something completely parted from the cancer, listen actively and talk about the subjects. You should always allow the person to choose when, how and how much they want to share. Don’t put pressure on them, even if you think sharing would help them.

Mind your body language. You could say a lot while keeping quiet. Show them you are listening, keeping eye contact. Of the person is quiet than share the silence with them. Sometimes sharing the silence could do a lot more than chattering. You could show a lot of support without any words spoken; they will know you are here for them.

Conversation tips

When talking with a person who has cancer, you have to be cautious. It is a difficult and unpleasant situation for both of you. There is no perfect way to deal with such hard times, but some guidelines from experts could help you. Dealing with cancer affects a wider circle of people around the patient. There are many mixed and confusing emotions on all sides. People frequently forget to care for themselves when dealing with a cancer patient.

However, that is essential for both of you. To show support and encourage a person to fight on, you must encourage yourself first.

  • Active listening

Listening is very important to a person who suffers from serious health condition, such as cancer. It is helpful to show them you care about what they are saying, no matter of the subject. Active listening shows a person you value their words, you respect them and consider them equal, no matter they are ill. Give them your full attention and don’t try to force an ending. Don’t distract yourself with intimidating thoughts about the disease consequences and outcome. Keep your focus, be present and show the person you care.

  • Choosing words

A conversation with a person suffering from cancer is a fragile thing. You should be thoughtful, especially when asking questions. Don’t bother a patient with too many questions and don’t feel rejected if they don’t want to respond. You may have an idea or advice that you think might help the person. However, you should ask if it is ok to offer the advice. If they don’t want to hear it, respect their wish. People with cancer often feel tired of too many advices and questions, so try to understand that and don’t be insistent.

  • Being honest

Be honest about your emotions. Don’t hide it away, but don’t overburden the person with it. Sharing your emotions about the person’s cancer diagnosis is ok, but keep it brief and try to remain as calm as you can. It is hard to do, but otherwise you would overwhelm the person and make it feel even more stressed.

  • Support and encouragement

Offering support is the most important thing to do. You could help your friend or relative not to give up their routine and comforting activities. If they are feeling well enough to attend some event, you could help them achieve it. You could also help them manage the plan of activities. Offering practical support is also very helpful. Be straightforward about that and ask simple questions about whether a person wants you to do this or that. Don’t wait for them to ask for your help, because many cancer patients would find it really hard to seek for other’s help.


Your presence should be comforting, supportive and helpful. Do not act as if you understand how they feel, because it might seem aggressive and stressful.

Let the person always set the tone of conversation and choose the subject. Offer practical help, show compassion, but don’t get overwhelmed with emotions openly.