When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, it’s hard to know what to say. Sadly, this sometimes translates into saying nothing at all.
To show our support for cancer patients, we have to speak up. We asked our community to share words of encouragement that helped them through their battle. They offered some amazing suggestions.
If you’re struggling to find the right words, here are 12 kind things to say to someone with cancer:
- “I’m so proud of your strength.”
- “I pray for you every day.”
- “This stinks.”
- “Let me help you with…”
- Tell a joke.
- “You are not alone.”
- “Any time you need to talk, I’ll listen.”
- “What day works for a visit?”
- “You are beautiful.”
- “You’ve got this!”
- “This doesn’t define you.”
- “Did you see the latest episode?”
1. “I’m so proud of your strength.”
Even if you’ve never had cancer, you can still appreciate how hard your loved one is fighting every day. Give them the recognition they deserve with this simple phrase. It might be just the thing they need to push through the day.
2. “I pray for you every day.”
Hearing that you are in someone’s thoughts and prayers can be a great comfort, and the act of praying may be very peaceful for you as well. If you or your loved one aren’t religious, it’s still helpful to hear someone is sending you good vibes daily.
“My BFF has been fighting cancer for two years & I mail a card each week with uplifting sentiments. I remind her how much she means to me & how proud I am of her strength & faith. I always tell her I’m praying for her journey.”
3. “This stinks.”
Cancer stinks. Sometimes, validating that for someone who has to go through it every day is all that needs to be said in the moment.
4. “Let me help you with…”
This is one of the most helpful things you can say. Instead of asking your loved one how you can help, tell them specifically what you’re able to help with.
Treatment, doctor’s appointments and physical symptoms make it difficult to keep up with day-to-day life. Make sure your loved one knows that everything will be taken care of. Their focus should be on healing, not worrying.
“Instead of placing the burden of decision on the patient or their caregiver, offer specific options of things to do. For example: may I come over and change the linens, clean out the refrigerator, bring teas for when visitors come, read to the patient while you nap.”
“Prepare meals, help with laundry, cleaning and give gifts to help with things to purchase.”
MaryAnn Lansky Bunjevac
5. Tell a Joke
After all, laughter is the best medicine.
“Chemo nurse says, ‘Well how ya doing today except for the cancer?’ She always made me laugh and we would go on to other funny stories that always lifted the spirits!”
6. “You are not alone.”
Cancer can feel isolating. Make sure your loved one knows that everyone who loves them is with them on their health journey. They are not fighting this battle alone.
7. “Any time you need to talk, I’ll listen.”
Having someone there to listen is enormously helpful for someone with cancer. They’re experiencing a lot of emotions, so it’s good to offer an outlet for whatever they want to talk about.
8. “What day works for a visit?”
Humans are social creatures. We thrive off personal interactions, especially with those who we feel comfortable around. During this difficult time, it’s crucial to show your support by planning regular visits. This will give your friend or family member a sense of community and help them feel like things are more normal.
“Initially, when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – his friends came around and visited. Further into this disease they stopped coming. My wish is that they still continued to come visit, even if he wasn’t interacting with them. My dad still needed the support and love and care of his friends. I would just go sit with my dad and read to him (even if he snoozed) or talk to him about stuff…even mundane stuff because it helps him to not be alone and to have some sense of “normality” in his illness.”
9. “You are beautiful.”
If undergoing chemotherapy, your loved one may lose their hair during treatment. This is a very emotional process and feeling confident could be a challenge at first.
No matter what physical symptoms your loved one is experiencing, this is an opportunity for you to make sure they know they still look amazing, beautiful and strong.
“I have a friend who was going thru the same journey I was. When we both lost our hair, he would walk up to me and tell me that and give me a kiss on the head. His wife later told me that when he started doing it to her several times a day, it made her feel more comfortable.”
Beth Shumate Chapman
10. “You’ve got this.”
A little motivation goes a long way. Pump your loved one up. Make them feel powerful. Whatever words you choose to convey this, they will appreciate the positivity despite a negative situation.
11. “This doesn’t define you.”
Cancer has a way of feeling all-encompassing. Those affected may feel like their identity revolves around being a cancer patient. That is simply not true.
Your loved one is so much more than someone who has cancer. They could be a dog-lover, artist, parent… Help them focus on all their amazing traits that have nothing to do with their illness.
12. “Did you see the latest episode?”
This isn’t a specific saying—it’s a reminder to talk about something else other than cancer. Cancer patients spend plenty of time discussing treatment, symptoms and prognosis. Your loved one will appreciate those who can find something brighter to talk about. Whatever topic you choose, getting their mind off their illness will be refreshing.
Show Love with Actions, Too
A care package is worth 1,000 words. Another way to show support is with a thoughtful gift or helping out with tasks. Check out these gift ideas for cancer patients for a little inspiration.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: it is tough to know what to say to someone with cancer. Use these 12 encouraging phrases to show how much you care without struggling to find the right words. And if you have any additional ideas, please share them. We’d love to hear what words have helped you.
Start a CaringBridge Site
A free CaringBridge online health journal allows you to update everyone at once and offers a scheduling tool to help you coordinate caring tasks.