How to Talk to Someone with Cancer

Here is a non-exhaustive list of ways to talk with some who has cancer that I have learned over the past 9.5 years:

  • Do more listening than talking.
  • Ask 10 times as many questions as advice you give.
  • Join a cancer patient in the pain and discomfort that cancer causes. “You have cancer” are the three scariest words in the English language when they are used together. It is painful, awful, and disruptive. Those words vault a person into listlessly significant personal wrestlings of mortality, quality of life and uncertainty. Join the patient in the disruption. Have compassion for these wrestlings. Quick and easy answers are usually not helpful. Share in the pain and heartache of a cancer diagnosis.
  • Speaking of quick and easy answers: things you see on television or things that worked for friends or friends of your friends are mostly useless. I can’t tell you how many people told me I need to consume more anti-oxidants or eat red grapes and red food – because Dr. Oz said so. Such tips are unhelpful. There is no cure for every cancer. When I am told such things, I recognize that the person has no idea about my cancer – trying to be helpful and just grasping at straws. But really, have I been through surgery, chemo and radiation because I didn’t eat enough red grapes or beets?
  • It doesn’t matter how I got cancer. I may have smoked for 40 years and ended up with lung cancer. The reality in that situation is that I have cancer. I am fighting for my life.
  • Deal with your cancer junk before encountering my cancer. My grandfather passed away from cancer around 1992. His cancer journey has little to speak into my cancer journey. Technology was different. Life is different. Each cancer journey is different. My journey is different than our friend’s journey who was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and passed away a month later. My journey is different than every other journey in the proton radiation waiting room.
  • Don’t be more upset about my cancer than I am. I don’t want to be in a position where I am reassuring you about my cancer.
  • Cancer is difficult and it holistically affects life. Cancer affects each person physically, emotionally, financially, relationally, vocationally and socially.
  • Cancer affects families as well. Ask about how the family is doing. Take care of the family alongside the patient. No one travels a cancer journey alone. Significant others are just as affected and are just as powerless in the outcome as the cancer patient. Significant others also will bear a bigger burden in the family when the spouse is fighting cancer. They have a large burden to carry.
  • Any sort of compassion and thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated. Send a text “Thinking of you and praying for you.” Call and leave a voicemail. Send an email.
  • From a Christian perspective, please pray for people with cancer. Pray for healing. That would be fantastic. Also pray for more of God in the cancer journey. Pray for more faith. What is the point of having faith if it doesn’t speak into a cancer journey? Pray for more joy in the midst of sorrow. Pray that God’s goodness and mercy would guide in the walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

3 thoughts on “How to Talk to Someone with Cancer

  1. I appreciate all that advise. I am learning a lot through your blogs as we walk along beside you in you cancer journey.
    Thank you for the lessons of faith.


  2. Excellent reading! Prayers continue for you and your family! Such great food for thought as I will be taking a friend to Moses Taylor on Monday morning for her cancer surgery! It is such a personal journey since each person is different, each treatment is different and each person handles it differently! Thanks for sharing and have a great day!


  3. Hi! Nice to meet you and your family. I have been in full remission for 3 years so I am in a position to say that “your things to say” is right on target!!! You and your family will be in my prayers. God bless you,


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