Email: heatherericksonauthor@gmail.com

What to Avoid Saying to a Friend With Cancer


What to Avoid Saying to a Friend With Cancer

One of the most frequent questions I am asked is what to say to support a friend facing cancer. Asking this question shows how much they care for their friend. People who avoid friends facing cancer often do so because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. I always say that anything said in love will likely be received with gratitude. Still, it can be reassuring to know what to avoid saying to a friend with cancer. Here are my thoughts:

“You’re a fighter! You can beat this.”

This is a common thing said to encourage someone facing a difficult road ahead of them. It would seem natural, then, to say this to someone facing cancer. Men, in particular, say this because they tend to see cancer as a challenge to overcome. You do this by being strong, fighting.

Why this is something to avoid saying to a friend with cancer:

This type of encouragement sends the message that beating cancer depends on the strength and willingness to fight, of the patient. What happens if they are unable to survive the illness? Does this mean they are weak? Is it the patient’s fault for not being tough enough, or not having enough fight in them? Of course not, and this certainly isn’t the message that the encouraging friend intends to send.

Of course not, and this certainly isn’t the message that the encouraging friend intends to send. It’s an unfortunate fact that cancer can take down the strongest person. There are so many factors that survival depends on.

Afraid“God will heal you because of your faith.”

There are several variations of this, but the essence is that you need not worry because God loves you and will heal you of your cancer. This is a beautiful sentiment to anyone who has a relationship with God. It can be very encouraging.

Why this is something to avoid saying to a friend with cancer:

The problem comes with the ups and downs of the patient’s health. If the patient isn’t doing well, there is an unspoken (and even worse–sometimes, spoken) insinuation that if the patient isn’t healed, it reflects their spiritual state. Everyone dies at some point, even the holiest people with unshakable faith. Some of these people die under difficult circumstances. It is better to speak of God’seternal faithfulness. This is an even greater encouragement than that of temporary life.

“Stay strong for…”

There are times when you want someone to hang on. You consider dangling the carrot of someone they care greatly for. A spouse, a child. The truth is that people will often hang on for a loved one. I had a friend who battled cancer multiple times. She was ready to die until her son was in a terrible accident. She rallied and cared for him until his death a couple of years later. Only after he died, did she, herself, succumb to death.

Why this is something to avoid saying to a friend with cancer:

If this is a powerful motivation, why shouldn’t you remind the patient of why to hand on? It is, in fact, manipulation. It also lays the burden of another’s well being on the shoulders of the patient. They have enough to cope with, emotionally, without that. Sometimes, a patient is ready to die. it is their time, but they feel like

Sometimes, a patient is ready to die. it is their time, but they feel to do so would be detrimental to a loved one. It is at this time that the greatest gift you could give a loved one with cancer is the comfort of knowing that things will be okay. They will be missed, yes, but their family and friends will be alright.

Family Care Conference

Let Go of Guilt

My concern in writing this post is that you will read it and feel guilty for things you’ve said in the past. Please, don’t. I don’t wish to weigh anyone down with needless guilt for things that they might have said in the past. Let it go! My purpose was to give you something to think about.  Having cancer is something that’s hard to imagine until you or someone very close to you has it.  Hopefully, this perspective will help you avoid some common faux pas in the future.

To Learn MoreFacing Cancer

To learn more about how to encourage someone as well as some other things to avoid saying, check out THIS POST. Even better, get my book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, available on Amazon.com

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since my husband, Dan was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness.

My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Have any Question or Comment?

6 comments on “What to Avoid Saying to a Friend With Cancer

Really helpful post. Having lost my step mom to cancer recently I can attest to how hard it is to talk to with someone with cancer. I think it varies day by day what mood they`re in and how they want chat about it but when in doubt, listen, be supportive and follow their cues.

Thank you, Shelby. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. You are so right. It is very difficult to know what to say to someone with cancer. How receptive they are to talking about it can even change over the course of their illness. Following their cues is key. I think that often, even if you say the “wrong” things, when there’s love behind your words, you can’t go wrong.

Good post, Heather. At times it is so difficult to know what to say to anyone with a disease as horrible as cancer. I try not to say a whole lot other than, “I am here if you need me.” I usually do not push my “good intentions” on them, but will offer to do housecleaning, run to the store, etc… If they say, “No I am fine,” I let it go, until the next week roles around.

I do say this again Heather. You and Dan have given to me strength beyond measure. When I feel like throwing my hands up, I always go to the two of you. Somehow it always makes me feel as if I do, I would be letting the two of you down. That is how much I love the two of you and have the upmost respect as how you have handled all of this.
I pray always one day we will meet. Maybe not in this life but the next. If we never meet on this earth, always know, you two are very dear friends to me. I feel your love all the way to Texas. Love and God Bless, SR

Hey Shelby, I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Can’t agree more, It’s very difficult to know what to say to someone with cancer. This is a very helpful post, really thanks for sharing!!

Thank you so much, SR. You are so kind. We appreciate your friendship and your prayers more than words can express. I think your response is great. Often, just hearing that you aren’t alone and that someone is there and willing to help if you need anything is so encouraging. Bless you!

Thank you, Kumin. Bless your day!

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