13 Good Things to Say to Someone with Cancer

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, it’s hard to know what to say or do. Sadly, this sometimes translates into saying nothing at all.


Every relationship is different, so there are no set requirements for how to talk to someone with cancer. But, there are steps you can take to allow conversations to go smoothly while showing your love and support.

First, Check in With Yourself 

Hearing about a loved one’s diagnosis can be shocking, heartbreaking, and everything in between. Whether they break the news in person or you hear it through the grapevine, give yourself space to process and acknowledge all emotions. 

It’s important to remember that there will be times when your loved one will not want to talk about their diagnosis. Consider taking a moment on your own to learn more about their condition, whether it be talking with a family member or doing some research.

What to Say

If you’re struggling to find the right words, here are 12 kind things to say to someone with cancer:

1. “I’m here for you.”

Show up for your loved ones and remain by their side as they go through this process. And if you say these words, make sure you mean them, and support them through thick and thin.

2. “You are in my thoughts and prayers.”

Hearing that your wellbeing is on someone’s mind 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.”

GiGi G.

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.

Tip: To help coordinate tasks like meal sign up, picking up meds, and more, the CaringBridge Planner is an all-inclusive scheduling tool to help you request and receive – support with everyday tasks. It’s all there, with a time and place for each task and space for anyone who wants to help.

“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.”

Thea S.

“Prepare meals, help with laundry, cleaning and give gifts to help with things to purchase.”

MaryAnn L.B.

5. Tell a Joke

After all, it’s been said that 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!”

Sharyn H.

“Cancer is no joke, but is still good to hear one that makes you laugh and takes your mind off of what you are going through. Even if it is just for a couple of minutes! Those minutes always mean the world to me.”

Glenn R.

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 just listen can be enormously helpful for someone with cancer. They’re experiencing a lot of emotions, and you can provide 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. For example, the CaringBridge Planner helps you coordinate care and organize needs like bringing meals, rides to doctor appointments or taking care of pets.

“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.”

Susan B.

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 their inner and outer beauty is recognized. 

“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 S.C.

A little motivation goes a long way. Pump your loved one up. Make them feel powerful. Whatever words you choose to convey this, they may appreciate the positivity despite a negative situation.

For more ideas of words to say, these encouraging quotes might help to spark some inspiration.

10. “There are so many things to love about 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.

11. “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 the topic, getting their mind off their illness will be refreshing.

12. “We can still do our favorite. . .”

From daily walks, playing cards, or watching your favorite show together, you may suggest continuing your regular routines with your loved one. While they enter a new hurdle of their life, you can help by creating some familiarity for them during a period of unknown.

13. “I love you.”

When nothing else feels right, these three simple, powerful words can mean the world. They might be just the thing your loved one needs to push through the day. 

“Offer specific help and unending love – just be human and present and do not expect anything in return.”

Lindsay C. R.

Helpful Tips for Showing Support

Knowing what to say to a cancer patient doesn’t always come naturally, but there are other simple steps you can take to show your support. Below are some general tips for how to show someone you care:

1. Stay in Touch

Visit your loved one whether they’re at home or in the hospital. Showing up can also be as simple as sending a text or a call. Sometimes it is the small gestures that matter the most.

2. Be a Good Listener

Practice active listening by reading what your loved one feels like talking about. If they want to talk about their favorite sports to simply get their mind off things, grant them that space to chat about whatever they want.

3. Connect Them With a Community

If you’re loved one is interested, help them find a cancer support group or system that aligns with what they need. This may take some of the stress of searching for the right group away so they can relax.

4. Start a Prayer Chain

If you are religious, prayer can be a powerful tool for healing and support. Consider starting a prayer chain. This is a way to show your loved one that they have a group of people who love them and are constantly thinking about them.

5. Go to Chemo With Them

It can be lonely going to an appointment by yourself. Offer your company by taking them to chemo. Sometimes having an extra presence in a stressful environment can be exactly what someone needs.

6. Respect Their Privacy

Friends and family often confide in those they trust and love the most when they are struggling with cancer. Remember to respect their privacy and refrain from spreading the news to others unless they ask you to. If they don’t confide in you immediately, don’t take it personally. Everyone handles heavy news differently, and it may take them some time to adjust.

7. Thoughtful Gift Baskets & Gestures

Sending gifts to cancer patients can often be an incredibly thoughtful and meaningful gesture. Gifts don’t have to be grand to show someone you care, and they can be sent from miles away.

8. Love Them

We know that the core of all of these ideas boils down to love. Show your love through your words and actions, and your support will be felt by your loved ones.

Words to Avoid

No one wants to say anything that will make their loved one feel worse. Unfortunately, that means in some cases we turn to cliché language that might not be that helpful. Here are a few common sentiments you may want to avoid:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “This is God’s plan.”

Statements like these can minimize and dismiss a person’s pain. Instead, focus on sharing positive words that validate what your loved one is going through, or simply offer to listen. A listening ear can be a blessing.

And just note that if you have shared one of these statements before – it’s OK. Nobody is perfect, and we’re all doing our best to learn and grow.

What Ways Do You Show Your Love?

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: it is tough to know what to say when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer. We completely understand that not everyone wants to hear the same thing, and what makes one person smile may not be as helpful for another. That being said, we hope a few of these statements resonate with you and make it easier to comfort your loved one.

And if you have any additional ideas, please share them. We’d love to hear what words have helped you. 

Start a CaringBridge Site

When you’re going through a health journey, you have a lot on your plate. CaringBridge replaces the time-consuming task of sharing your health news over and over. It’s a free, easy-to-use online journal for sharing health information with your family and friends.  

Don’t go through your health journey alone.

You can stay connected to friends and family, plan and coordinate meals, and experience love from any distance.

All of this is ready for you when you start your personal CaringBridge site, which is completely free of charge, ad-free, private and secure. Don’t spend another minute alone!

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  • Payton Sb

    OK- I recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Cest la vie.
    My favorite suggestion is in a comment below “I love you, I am here for you”.
    Most of the list are good. Personally, I don’t want to hear “I’m sorry”, “that sucks”, which is like one of the list items above, “This stinks.”. Duh.
    I also don’t want to hear “You are not alone.” and I don’t want you to refer me to a friend you had that went through this too. I know I am not alone, prostate cancer is the 5th leading cancer leading to death of men in America (per https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/research/update-on-cancer-deaths/index.htm).
    The other items I think are good. At least for me.
    It is nice to know you have a friend. I am an agnostic, but if prayers help, I am actively seeking them out. I lost 2 close cousins to cancer, men, who were too strong to let the world know they are suffering from this horrendous disease, and I really wish I could have visited them 1 last time before they passed. I welcome meeting with any friends that I have made in my life too- and who knows if it is the last, but at least we had one last connection.
    To the author, thanks for posting this. I appreciate it. Life is too short to dwell on haters.
    Best
    Payton

  • Virginia Todd

    Cancer is ugly, but you are beautiful—your smile warms the room.

  • Gale Limbacher

    This is all excellent advice. For the past year my husband has been suffering from glioblastoma – a brain cancer that is very malignant and considered terminal in all cases. If has been a pretty grim year. Please remember when a family member is very ill – the whole family suffers. Please don’t just pray for the patient but for the whole family but especially any children involved. And offer to help with the kids. Give them a happy day or a happy hour in which to play and just be a child as often as you can. Children grieve intermittently – so allow them to cry in your arms and then get up and play and then come back to cry again. This isn’t weird, it’s normal behavior for a grieving child.

  • Clara David

    How to Comfort and Support a Friend Whose Mom Has Cancer

  • charles birkholm

    In the latest direct mailing, I saw a piece of information “Expert advice On Healing ” from Sharon Berry. I would like to get some follow up on this series.thank you.Charles Birkholm

  • Kamini Naidu

    Another experience l would like to share here. I know my cancer is terminal and survival rate is low. I read in one of the comments about the family being supportive instead of preparing to collect donations etc. It’s true… One has to be there for the victim. As for me l know l have my insurance to cover for my funeral expenses but I started telling my daughter about my wishes when l lay in peace. What rituals to follow are all penned down and how l want to get cremated, how l want to be dressed and farewell on my last journey. Even though l am a divorcee I am not a widow so l want to be dressed up as a bride which is part of our culture…. I will buy my costume myself instead of my parents. In South Indian culture a girl wears clothes bought by the in-laws on her wedding day and on her death she wears clothes bought by her parents and the brother and sister in law have to do the rituals. I have told my children that l will shop before hand and keep it aside. They just have to give it to the person who will serve as my brother… Only thing is he has to pay a few dollars. My children think l talking rubbish but no it’s called preparing ahead of the disaster. As for prayers l don’t feel offended if my Christian friends or relatives offer to pray. I respect all religions but l am a strong Hindu. Everyday l listen to motivational mantras before going to sleep and believe it or not it has helped me a lot and I am not thinking of death now….. it has given me the will power to live longer to see my grandchildren and get my youngest daughter settled in life. I am not going anywhere l tell myself everyday. I will stay and fight it over if not completely. Just today one of my teacher colleague , my secret admirer offered to pray for me daily…. He is a strong Christian and I accepted it. There are people out there to help you… They will take your name and pray without you being involved….. Well l know it won’t cure cancer but it gives you a feeling of being loved and cared.

  • Kamini Naidu

    I am diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer stage 4 advanced to the left lung. Previously l had lumptecomy for breast cancer and had seven weeks of radiation therapy. After eight years the deadly thing returned….. firstly with fluid in the peural cavity and shortness of breath. The fluid showed cancer cells. When l was given the news my son and his wife were with me. The doctor was so empathetic and kind when breaking the news. It was very hard to tell other family members especially my 83 year old mum. She did get emotional but the very next moment she forgot what l am going through as she is having dementia problems. My children together with my daughter in law and my best childhood friend cum lover had been very supportive. My best friend is in my home country but he will call or message me daily telling me he is there for me always and no matter what he still loves me. He had promised to be in New Zealand as soon as the Covid crisis is over and fulfill my last wish. Currently l am going through oral chemotherapy. I had one week of radiation therapy last year and now after a year another week of radiation therapy. My nieces cum friends are there for me enquiring about my well being and how l am coping. My siblings don’t know yet as they had broken ties with me long ago. I have also not told many people as some of the Fiji lndian community people are quick at spreading rumours and associating with once Karma…. And that’s the worst thing l would want to hear. Apart from that l have genetic disease of Neurofibromatosis which l inverted from my dad. My brother also got it…… He forgets that he got it also but he reckons my children and l got it due to our bad karma. Yes staying close to your loved ones and getting cared, support and attention from them are bonuses for me. I am all and everything for my children and they know how l have singlehandedly brought them up with no support from their dad or anyone. It makes one feel over the moon when a cancer patient is given attention, pampered, loved and making her feel wanted…… A sense of belonging prevails and also promotes positivity and strength.

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  • Bonnie

    To anyone offended by being prayed for, that love door swings both ways. If your not a believer perhaps it is more loving to over look your offense and know that this is an expression of love that may make the believer feel better and give them hope.

  • Molly

    I agree with many of you, these are all TERRIBLE suggestions. It only makes someone feel guilty and weak on days they feel bad to remember everyone is saying “You got this!” Or “you’re so tough!” The bottom line is everyone is different. People will take things differently. All you have to say is: “I love you. I’m here for you.”

  • Dr. Mark Nataupsky, Ph.D.

    My wife and I had been married for more than 50 years. For the last two years, she FOUGHT stage-4 ovarian cancer. She died on October 16, 2019. Your email brought well-needed tears to my eyes. I will share this email with others.Thank you for caring and sharing.

  • T. Kilani

    I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.She is already at stage three.I am so worried because I cannot even go to see her because of the lockdown. When I spoke with her she started fine but later on she started crying.I know I must be strong for her but I honestly need to know how . I did tell her that I loved her, I know she is strong and that She will beat this thing but still feel it wasn’t enough.

  • Cynde OShea

    Well Kate and Monica What Would You Say

  • Connie

    Bald is beautiful? Seriously?

  • Susan

    I am so appreciative for all of you sharing your experience. I lost my brother to Pancreatic cancer.A year after losing my husband to a heart attack, I reconnected with an old friend from high school. Shortly after, I learned he is in 4th stage cancer. It seems like the “cure” is worse than the disease.I’m in awe of all you who have or are going through cancer treatments. Everyone in my immediate family had cancer. Two out of three survived. I really don’t know how to comfort my friend. I live states away, but I couldn’t visit with this coronavirus thing going on.

  • Monica

    These are awful. This article should be title “What Not To Say To A Cancer Patient”

  • Kate O'Hara

    Sorry, but I think most of these comments suck.

  • Karen

    It is loving to say you’re praying for someone, even if they are not Christian. It shows that They are in your thoughts. I don’t believe anyone will be upset to know their well-being I son your mind.

  • Kathleen Mezeske

    I would say that unless you know a person’s belief system, do NOT say I will pray for you. To someone who is an atheist it is offensive that you don’t know them well enough (I get this from people who DO know I am not a believer), and that you do not respect their wishes and their rights to think for themselves. I have said calmly and kindly to someone who knew me and said you will be in my prayers, “And I will wish for myself, as much good as either of those does”.

  • Bob Epstein

    Happy Trails to You
    Until We Meet Again

  • Lindsay A Campbell-Reidhead

    As a parent who watched her young daughter battle cancer twice with two very different survival estimates, most of these suggestions are not only questionable, but in fact do incredible harm. Please do not try gloss over the very real struggles and do not tell them “you got this” if their cancer diagnosis is terminal. Instead, offer specific help and unending love – just be human and present and do not expect anything in return. Nobody dies of cancer because they didn’t fight hard enough and nobody should feel like they have to fulfill our desires for a heroic battle. Cancer is an illness and science is the only real way to cure it.

  • Karen Herd

    Having gone through cancer 3+ years now I like number 3, 5 and 8 best. And yes, no one much wants to talk about it….and need to even this long after diagnosis. Thank you.

  • Glenn Regamey

    Cancer is no joke, but is still good to hear one that makes you laugh and takes you mind off of what you are going through… Even if it is just for a couple of minutes! Those minutes always mean the world to me.

  • Jan Underwood

    Caring bridge is on top of things. When it comes to donations. My sister passed, from Cancer. It ate her up alive. In weeks passing I was sent funeral tips. I still had hope at the time. We had a Celebration of life for her. Donations were tagged a 15%, got by that and was automatically charged a $10.00 fee. We all are givers, We know it costs to do business, don’t finagle a fee. If someone gave, a heart or star was put by their name. Tacky, kiddish. Your blind text today, sending “how” to talk to cancer victim. Mine, my sister is gone. Cancer put a hole in her four sisters heart. She was our baby. Honorable mention of her two girls and husband. I want to scream,cry, hit because I can’t hold, touch, or say happy new year. I miss my sister. She was a good hearted person. For those who beat cancer, Great! For families that know it was caught too late, cry and hug now. Then let her go. Palliative care helped. Getting drummed for cash didn’t.

  • Carol Dawes

    Plan ahead, Bring a puzzle, cards, yahtzee, simple knitting if you both knit, etc. When you want to visit but feel awkward and you’re not sure about what to say these activities are comforting distractions.

  • Donna Friedman

    I’m going to the ( …. fill in) store. What can I bring to you?

  • Steve Hachenberger

    My wife Diana had Hairy Cell Leukemia. I pray each day and still do for her. It never goes away. Always I pray for peace and calm to prevail. She remains in remission. This is the best solution I can ask for. Her continued recovery and my ability to deal with the damage this cancer has caused us . Faith has helped us and I truly believe her “Angel” has guided us at the worst times.

  • Virginia

    Psalm 3:3 …the lifter of my head. Cancer stinks! God’s hand is reaching for yours. Anytime the person wants to talk, listen intently.

  • Kathy Davis

    I had Cancer at 4 years of age, I couldn’t grasp what was going on. I am fine now. Later my younger sister got lung disease, I always called her husband before we came down to see if Nancy was up for a visit, Nancy asked e if I had a certain book, I told er I did & sent it down with some wigs & a throw I made for her. The kast Christmas we spent together, I had made an Afghan for every Family member, she got a paddy green one, her husband got a brown one, she loved it & started to cry, I went over to hold her & she asked me if I could teach her how to crochet, I tried, but she was having trouble with it, during the last months of her life, we went to see her, I asked her husband if I could see Nancy, he told us she was sleeping, I promised not to wake her up; I sat on the bed, she was bald, when she woke up, she asked me “what I was doing there”- I simply told her that I was there to see my beautiful sister, Nancy said “but I don’t have any hair on”. I smiled and said “don’t you remember what Mom told us? Beauty comes from within. So I am here to see my beautiful Sister. We talked for a few minutes & she went back to sleep. Nancy died in July, we went to her service, she was wearing a red wig I had given her, she looked beautiful, I expected her to sit up. I touched her hand, it was ice cold, I did Pray for her and I cried myself to sleep at home, she never saw me cry, I wouldn’t let that happen. I still miss her & I love her with all my
    heart. Kathy Davis

  • Laurie Heber

    hi Caring Bridge you are doing a good job with my friend sally valentine keep up the good. I like works you sent me . I needed new words. From Laurie Heber

  • Kay Krizek - Friend of Lily Wolk who is deeply into her recovery!

    I love what Marilyn suggested. “Don’t sent flowers or gifts but go out and do something nice for someone else then tell me what you did!” Attagirl, Marilyn. Hope you are doing well!

  • Peter PIsani.

    Be at peace with cancer, don’t be angry at it. It’s your DNA so being Angry is like being angry at yourself.
    10 plus years of living with pancreatic cancer is my situation.

  • Dennis Farley

    How about; is everything right with God?
    Have you settled everything with everyone?
    Have you taken care of all your finances?
    Have you made amends with those that need one?
    Have you come to accept your situation ?
    Is there anyone you want to see?
    Are you praying and keeping in contact with God?

  • Marilyn Murphy

    When I was diagnosed, I included this suggestion with my correspondence to friends:

    “Please don’t send flowers or a casserole. Instead, go out and do something nice for someone – and then tell me what you did!”

  • Ann

    My grandson said. “Grandma you’ve got this”, it meant so much and was a ray of humor-It’s important that cancer patients have someone to talk to about what they are experiencing-Love, support, prayers, cancer patients are so grateful for all of these!

  • Karen Steinlight

    Thank you
    These ideas will help me to be able to help my sister. She lives far away so the package idea will be fun.
    I’m enjoying keeping up with her on your caring bridge website.
    God
    Merry Christmas
    Karen Steinlight
    Sister-Wilma Barlow

  • Susan Shaw

    “With hope, anything—in fact, everything—is possible.”

  • A Heninger

    Even though I didn’t have radiation or chemo, I’ve had problems with healing from reconstruction. I know these words should make me feel ok but I hate hearing But ya.look good!

  • Sharon

    It is nice hear these when you have cancer, I just finish my treatment in June. The only ones who cared were the clinic I went to. Many people came and ask what kind of cancer I had, one one person brought food enough to feed me, which I couldn’t eat the food anyway . So my husband ate it so I had to find myself something else to eat. He really not a cook, but did help when he could. He also had to do house hold work as well as work. It was a Big undertaking as well with it all NO phone calls or visit from anyone. DON’T ever say to someone going to cancer you will help and then don’t. I weather have you just don’t say anything and leave me alone. Because it hurts, I feel like you didn’t care after all. By the way before I had cancer I made many meals and other stuff for others. And still continue doing it

  • Fred Hakes

    I read this article and all the comments – at times with tears in my eyes as I reflected how blessed I have been during my battle with acute myloid leukemia (AML). I was hospitalized for nearly 3 months and nearly died early on.
    I have been greatly encouraged and sustained by family who came/helped from several states away. I am HUGELY grateful for our church family as they really rose to the occasion during my hospitalization – regular visits, a TON of cards, texts and emails of encouragement, mowed my lawn, did laundry when I couldn’t navigate stairs to washer/dryer, brought mail to the hospital and helped me pay bills, AND the ladies of the church brought meals continuously since I came home in mid-June! I’ve regained about 20# of the >40# I lost while hospitalized!
    In the next week or so I return to the hospital for stem cell transplant in what I hope will be the final part of this chapter of my battle with AML. I give glory to God for all the things my family , friends and church family did right as detailed in your helpful article!

  • Nadine

    Thank you so much for these helpfull thaughts and ideas.

  • Donna Farmer

    Your meaningful advice is so helpful for us all. Thank you

  • Ellie

    Thank you! This is so helpful!

  • Ann

    Very good. It is difficult but not as difficult as what they are going through.

  • Carol Floyd

    Hi Dear Friend,
    Am praying for you as you journey down this road. God is with you and I know there are many others praying. Love your guts?
    Carol

  • Jayanta Banerjee

    Excellent tips of mindful compassion for someone who needs a helping hand!!

  • Leanna Taylor

    I love your picture. You look so beautiful!
    Call your old aunt. I would like talking with you or
    Listening if you want to talk. I love ❤️ you.

  • Jane Garibay

    Wonderful advice

  • Mary Jo Martin

    I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and had a Lumpectomy of right breast and removal of main lymph node. There was no cancer noted in lymph node. I was also given wonderful news from Radiologist that I did not need to do radiation. I have been so blessed and so many people praying for me. I was so fortunate to have so much support from my family and friends. I am still recovering because I developed a hematoma and had to have that evacuated less than 2weeks ago. The recovery is getting better everyday.

  • Cheryl Davis

    The power of prayer can never be underestimated! The more prayer warriors I have out there the better. It is from this that I gain strength each day!

  • Jayanta Banerjee

    Outstandingly inspiring suggestions!!

  • denise a andes

    as someone who walked through treatment for a Stage 4, my main belief was “I am not this cancer”. for my dear friends walking through any stage of cancer…I see them in their ‘highest state of health’ and send them unconditional love and blessings daily. I continue to speak to their ‘essence’ and hold them gently, strongly, steadfast, and fiercely. And I tell them that. We are never alone. They are walking forward in their own best way.

  • Peggy A. Weber

    WOW these sentiments are spot on..from one who is battling lymphoma. Listening to the patient is so vital as well, it truly is the simple things in life that are the best meds of all!

  • Becca Westphal

    Not a cancer patient, but I was very sick and needed a liver transplant. Recovery is slow and issues crop up. Also many ongoing tests , blood work and lifetime medications. Sometimes I am overwhelmed and get down on myself. I have a few friends and family members that are wonderful support, they take me to appts. Bring me an occasional meal or bounty from their gardens, and call to check on me.
    Many people say let me know if you need anything. Well, that’s not going to happen. The suggestion “What can I do to help you?” means so much more.
    Also when I get down and whiney, I have a friend who brings me back to reality. She looks me straight in the eye and says “but you are alive and I’m praying for you!”
    It works every time. Just let the sick person know they matter. It will do wonders for you too.

  • Dani

    ” You got this” made me very sad and a little panicky…it abdicated responsibility for everything back to me. Made me feel that I was a failure /fraud and on my own/all alone.
    I found something along the lines of “you are so strong/my hero/amazing” followed by a concrete offer of bringing a meal over, cleaning, driving…to help me in my fight much more comforting and acknowledged this was no cakewalk.
    I think know your audience before you offer prayer. If you don’t know, can offer wishes for the easiest route through treatment/fast recuperation…best care, etc. Or just acknowledge what you know of their situation.
    Also need to be careful/know your audience before saying bald is beautiful. But generally, compliments and acknowledgements are good.

  • Sarah Patterson

    A Palliative Care Nurse was very negative with my son who has leukemia.
    I said, ” We will have a little celebration meal for his ability to go home today.”
    She said, ” You don’t need to celebrate, you need to face facts. Do you understand?”
    My husband said, “She is a very sad, negative person. She gave us no hope.”
    Our very ill son, who doesn’t complain, just said, “Why did she say all that?
    I said “She is a very sad person, but we plan to have hope and encouragement and do the positive, healing things every day. God goes with us through the fiery words.”

  • Roberta Y Wright

    I love my cousin, Linda. She is amazing. I appreciate all she is and has yet to be. She is a “Doll.”

  • Doug Armstrong

    What’s missing in many of the suggestions is the reminder that you should NEVER say “it” if you don’t mean it. That’s one of the reasons why offering something specific can often be better than asking “What can I do for you?”

    Do not over promise.

  • Tom W.

    When my mother had cancer, I told her that I would shave my head in support of her. A lady she knew, knitted caps for her, which she wore. Nowadays, whenever I see a bald woman, I make a point of stopping her, tell her my mom’s story and then say, “I’ll pray for you” and tell her my mom’s story, if she wants to hear it. Above all, I try to stay positive and uplifting.

  • Margaret

    This is just a person “bug a boo” with me. I do not like the analogy of cancer as a “battle” and reference to “losing the battle to cancer.” That is always what you see in the newspapers and death notices.
    Cancer is NOT a battle. It is a disease and and when the patient dies, it is not because they didn’t fight hard enough. I think it puts the patient in a “guilt” situation that they lost the battle. Also may make the family feel as if the patient didn’t “fight” hard enough. I know this is kind of picky, but just my personal thought.

  • Judy K Riggle

    I haven’t been through cancer but have been in a situation where my husband had a catastrophic accident. Please DON’T say “how can I help you”. That puts the burden on the patient and caregiver. Just do something for them. The ones who went to the grocery and bought toilet paper for my house, gave me a gift card for my meal and gas expenses, and brought over meals without me asking are the ones I remember.

  • Debbie Hershey

    I was Diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago. When it got out that I had cancer I had people come visit, call and send cards. I had no idea just how many people cared for me until then. It made my journey easier.

  • Carrie Saunders Lawrence

    I like all of these suggestions. I suppose some of them can be looked at in other ways but for me, during this, anything to interrupt my descent into the “dark corner” that is my reality for the rest of my life (however long that is) is welcome. I strive every day to not let cancer define me and to keep my family from that also. It shows people understand what it is, our limitations in what we can do about it (violent physically and emotionally) but it is a violent condition, nothing right now will change that. I love a good joke, the darker the better. Like K Welch said, good energy coming my way is welcomed and cherished. I’ve only had one insensitive thing said through this entire ordeal, she is from a different culture/country and I realized she thought she was being helpful. I took it that way.

  • J. W. K.

    While I don’t necessarily agree that these are all the best things to say to a cancer patient, I appreciate that Caring Bridge is trying to support people in their communication, as this is not always an easy or comfortable thing to do. Here is my feedback and a few other choices, some along the lines of what they were trying to get at, hopefully a bit gentler. I think the main thing is to think ahead of time about what would be helpful to someone, and what would not — ie, you need to put effort into the preparation of your communication, not just emote on the fly. I speak regularly with patients in the nonprofit work that I do and appreciate that CB got me to sit down this morning and think again about what I am saying to people:


    I would never say “Bald is beautiful” as nobody cares to be bald, and generally we do not as a society think it is beautiful, so it’s disingenuous. I might say something like, “Your hair loss is a visual manifestation of the challenge you are going through … it’s honest and courageous … and by the way: few look as lovely as you do.”

    “It’s hard to imagine what it is like to be in your shoes right now. I admire your strength and courage.”

    “Do you believe in prayer? Would you like me to pray for you?” (And if they say no, then…). “Well, know I will be holding you in my thoughts.”

    Sometimes “this stinks” works and sometimes it does not. You might instead say (similar to what Beverly Dean suggested): “This is a bump in the road … a really big bump, though. Step by step, you’ll get over it. It won’t be easy, but before you know it, you’ll be on the downhill side.”

    “How can I help you? Can I watch the kids (or clean the house next Tuesday, or grab groceries for you tomorrow…).”

    MAYBE “I know a funny xxx joke. Would you like to hear it?” (or, skip the joke unless the patient jokes first, indicating they are up for joking around — but I would never throw a joke out there unless someone indicates they want to hear it)

    “You are not alone.”

    “Any time you need to talk, I’ll listen.”

    “Are you open to having visitors right now?” (“What day is good for a visit?’ presumes they want to see you when perhaps they do not)

    Here, I must be critical. “You’ve got this” is such a ridiculous thing to say that I am surprised that CB included it. If people “had this” they would not need reassurance in the first place … and we know by the mortality rates that in fact, people don’t have this — they die of cancer. I am more inclined to say:
    “Because we are not medical professional, it can be hard to appreciate just what modern medicine can accomplish. But people have been cured of your illness in the past. I hope the treatment goes smoothly for you and you have a good outcome.”

    “This doesn’t define you.” You have to be careful of who you say this one to, too. Some people have cancer treatment for so long or it is so physically debilitating that at some level they are consumed with it, thus it can become pretty defining. I would say this:
    “There are so many things to love and admire about you. Your sense of humor. Your patience as a mother, even though that can be challenging right now (it is always challenging). Your voracious appetite for a good book …. your ability to forge friendship and community. I know the cancer is there, but when I think of you, I first think of these other things, as they are what defines you.”

    “When you find moments when you are feeling better, how are you spending your time?” I would not say, “Hey, have you seen the last episode of Game Of Thrones?” After all: maybe they have been busy sleeping, hoping to have enough strength to eat, throwing up. Something about “Have you seen the latest tv show?” diminishes what the person is going through.

  • D. DiManno

    Please don’t assume that everyone who has cancer wants to hear the same thing. What may be comforting to one person may be offensive or insensitive to another. (I’m particularly uncomfortable with “You’ve got this,” I’m praying for you,” “This doesn’t define you,” and “Bald is beautiful.” While others may find them meaningful and helpful, many do not. And telling a joke? Wow … be careful about the timing and the situation. (And with all due respect, and experience, five years is a pretty arbitrary measure. Please don’t be lulled into thinking anyone is ever really “cancer free.”) Let’s be upbeat and positive and hopeful … and realistic.

  • laura thor

    I like most of these well-wishes, but I’ve always recoiled at “you’ve got this!” Perhaps because until someone’s been 5 years cancer-free, no, no one’s got this. YGT sounds like a false promise to make the wisher comfy but leaves the hearer lonely. Bc they don’t feel like they’ve ‘got this’. (What does that even mean?)

  • Donna Patterson.

    I’m a Christian and appreciate you sharing this with me. I believe every prayer kills one cancer cell. Keep praying for us. ?✝️??

  • JennyB

    I have had one of the chronic leukemias for 13 years, and I went through treatment 10 years ago (and will probably need treatment again sooner rather than later). Most casual acquaintances (work colleagues) didn’t know I was going through treatment – I didn’t lose my hair, never missed work (except for my treatment days) and I didn’t lose any weight (I gained . . . and I blame chocolate covered raisins). I didn’t think I was being strong – I was just being me. It wasn’t until just this year that one of my sisters told me how much she admired my strength. It meant the world to me!

  • K Welch

    I’m a atheist, so when someone says, I’ll pray for you, I could interpret it as being meaningless. However, to me, prayer and good thoughts are a form of energy, and knowing that a person is sending energy my way can be very powerful. So I accept that they are sending me positive energy, and simply say”Thank you.”

    And by the way, not everyone believes or accepts the same thing, so it’s very hurtful to hold one’s own beliefs as being the Truth. Compassion encourages acceptance, even if someone doesn’t share your strongly held beliefs. Each person finds the path that is right for them.

  • Sheila

    Thank you for this. Very useful and encouraging.

  • Carol Eden

    I’m a cancer warrior. These are good ideas however instead of “how can I help?”, say “I’d like to bring dinner over next week. What is the best day and time?” It can be fried chicken from a restaurant or a simple meal. It doesn’t have to be a 5 course meal. Or say, “I will come clean your house for you or have my housekeeper come clean once for you . When is a good time? “. “When is your next appointment? I’ll take you”.
    I had many people say they would be glad to help, and they meant it. It’s just very hard for me to call someone and ask. If a person says these things to someone fighting cancer then you know what specific they are willing to help you with.

  • M. O’Keeffe

    If I could beat my cancer, U can too. U’ve ALWAYS been a lot tougher than I ever was……we’ll fight it TOGETHER, my friend…..

  • Kathy

    I am a Double Mastectomy Breast Cancer Survivor. Waiting on Biopsy for melanoma outcome as I write. I appreciate all the suggestions that have been mentioned previously. What has empowered me the most was a sister survivor teaching me a way to battle daily, visually and metaphorically.
    Think of your cancer and your problems like you are carrying a BIG Old Santa Bag around on your back…..Oh it is so heavy. Like Santa delivering presents under the tree, reach in there….and pull each one out. Empty the Bag as much as you can. EMPTY YOUR BURDEN BAG DAILY!!
    Same with people, living, daily, financial, and cancer struggles. The smallest things in a day can be monumental. Decide where you want to be and what makes you feel whole, what is best for you. Do you want to be on the Struggle Bus today??? or do you Want to Get Off the Struggle Bus Today??? Then visualize getting on up and leaving those Struggles on the Bus!!
    Get OFF at the next STOP……even just for a Day……so you can heal, so you can find comfort in self love!!
    So for me – Learning how to Empty my Burden Bag & Learning how to Get off the Struggle Bus made of world of difference in kicking cancer to the curb!!!!!
    It LIGHTENS the sickness and hard times and BRIGHTENS the Goodness!!!….. and reminds us to Cherish the Great Moments we have!
    I picture

  • Joyce Meakins

    I would love to have a copy of this to share, maybe make some copies for my friends in my Cancer Group, we meet once a month. Sincerely, Joyce Meakins

  • Judy Gibson

    I’m sorry that some people feel that they must mention prayer, faith etc. Of COURSE such things are very important, to so many people…and yet, really, a person’s beliefs are so private. Unless the patient himself/herself raises the subject people should avoid sounding preachy. I have had experience with a dozen people who over the years of my life were dying of something or other, sometimes a dreadful incurable illness, at other times, simply the complications of old age; and a few, as the result of a horrific accident. I spent time with them in their final days if they showed that they wanted to see me; and, generally, all of them did. So…yes, I told jokes; I said how amazing their courage was, and reminded them that life is not ended by death, it merely continues in another form. That is scientific truth. Where do plants get their strength? From the soil. What is it composed of? Decaying organic matter, and mineral elements from the planet, and sunlight, and water. We are part of all this. We nurture the future beings and so we continue to exist. We are related to all other living species, with the abilities of five senses and another sense of which some of us know a little…and even a lot. That is what is called ‘intuition’ or the sixth sense; for example, sensing when one is in danger. So if you want to comfort someone you care about, find out whether they would rather that you sit quietly with them…or sing to them or play a musical instrument; or talk about a book you both loved, a person you loved, etc. Be quiet if they wish you to be. Leave after a very brief visit if you are exhausting them. But for goodness sake do not preach, nor argue. Tell them that you will be thinking of them often as they go on this last journey, and touch them lovingly on the had or on the top of their head, with gentle touch. When you say goodbye, say, “Don’t be afraid, because you weren’t afraid when you were born, and none of us had control over that time either!” If you say that with a smile, they will be reassured. Death is simply a tallying up of all the moments we lived; a chance for the universe to find a place for us as part of the new journey. Don’t hog the small amount of time a person near death has to spend time with others he or she loves; leave with love, and say your prayers to yourself.

  • Allan Bartelt

    Very sad to read ….. “I’m praying for you, To me this equates with ” I’m doing nothing for you”.

    For those that do pray, we all know that “Praying is doing everything for you” . You can still feed the dogs and clean the kitchen but prayer has the most impact.

  • Allan Bartelt

    Very sad to read Lori C’s comment dated Aug 26th on “I’m praying for you” stating that is “doing nothing for you”.
    Although many will say that and don’t actually pray for the afflicted person, for everyone that know the healing power of prayer will know that praying is “doing everything for you.”

  • Betsy Schlesinger

    Don’t ask what you can do to help. Just saying you’re going to Wegmans (or where) and ask what they need.

    If you pray, pray. But don’t be public. Not all people do.

    Do say, “You got this,” when the person may not. Take your cue from the person. Ask them how THEY are feeling and go from there.

    Most important, be there for them. You don’t have to be cheerful all the time. Or have all the answers. There may not always be answers. Just be there, listen, and take your cues from your friend or loved one.

  • rita bock

    Short visits ?. Paint nails/trim
    Bring a hairdresser over.
    New PJ’s
    Favorite cookies
    Favorite breakfast
    A walk if able or just sit outside!

  • Karin L Petersen

    This was “heaven sent”. Today our family friend went in for a double mastectomy. Our God is always helping us cope with the challenges faced in life. Yes, as your comment said, we are never alone. Thank you for sharing this list.

  • Elizabeth Huber

    Thank you.
    That helped

  • Lynn Pentecost

    Thinking of you.

  • David Black

    I mean “You’ve got this!” (Just to clarify that I read it correctly and think it’s a terrible idea.)

  • David Black

    “You got this!” is utterly inappropriate. Terrible idea.

  • John M White, Jr

    The southern tradition of “comfort food” works too:
    The roast, cake, pan of rolls, etc. comforts the recipient
    as a token of caring and doesn’t require a lot of words on
    the part of the giver. The giver is comforted by giving.

  • Anne Spooner Crowe

    Bald is beautiful is a poor comment unless you know how someone feels about their hair. I could have cared less but to some it’s their pride and joy. The comments like this doesn’t define you, etc are meaningless unless the “sayer” has had cancer. Offer any assistance, to coordinate meals, etc all worthwhile. The rest seemed ill-thought out. ( I am 4 yrs remission from Follicular DIffuse Large B-Cell NHL)

  • Christine

    Do NOT say « Cancer stinks ». Cancer is a dreadfully smart disease , it needs to be treated with intelligence and dedication. Not to be liken to garbage…

  • Marti Biegler

    I am currently recovering from a bilateral mastectomy. I am extremely fortunate that I don’t need either chemo or radiation and only AI pills. I have some amazing friends that just say, “I’m coming over” and we ended up for hours on my deck just talking about random things. Humor is awesome as well. When I went into a very cold classroom for inservice week, I made the comment, “It’s cold enough to freeze my tits off…oops, too late!” It’s ok to laugh about it yourself as well.

  • Helena Worthen

    I did chemo for breast cancer in Chicago in the summer — that means, it was hot, hot, and no way I was going to put a wig on my head. So I went bald. It was time to experience what hardcore youth were looking like, anyway. Now, I’m a white woman in my sixties. The nicest thing people said to me was, “Good looking head!” and this was especially friendly when it was a Black man (usually a guy in his 50’s or 40’s, in a business suit but with a shaved head himself) would smile and say, “Looking good,” or something like that. I really loved that. This would happen just crossing the street or walking towards me down Michigan Ave.

  • Emily W Zopf

    Tell me what you appreciate about me. Help me focus on the good in my life not just the cancer.

  • Sam Hashizu

    This is not a death sentence.
    Actively pursue alternative cures such as focusing on feeling happy ever moment in time. Be totally in the place of appreciation, gratitude and have great attitudes
    Read the story of Joe Dispenza via Youtube and follow his instructions.

  • Barbara Dingmann

    Caring Bridge is a wonderful way to communicate. From 2004-2008 I had a website. I had 3-Primary Cancers and 6- Major Surgeries during this period of time. Thank’s to God, The Mayo and My Husband I am here today!

  • Rev. Caren Loper

    I was blessed with friends who when I shared I was going to shop for a wig, said, we want to buy it for you! Another friend drove me to my appointment in her BMW and cheered me on! The wig I chose matched my hair color and was a bit shorter. I had my beautician shave my head three weeks into chemo just as my hair began to fall out. I wore my beautiful, professional looking wig from that day forward in public and scarves at home if cooking in the kitchen. Getting up, dressed, makeup, and going to my office each day gave my life purpose and helped me to keep positive.(yes, I had days after chemo when I couldn’t get out of bed, except to go vomit.) As a pastor with a busy schedule, I asked my congregation for prayer and Pom Pom Cheers!(not just for me, but for each person in the community as everyone is fighting some kind of battle.) They loved it and that is what they did! I received from a person, a cancer surviver’s wife, a basket filled with self care items.(mints, pedicure items, clack out mask for sleeping, lotion for my skin, a boa (for fun), a joke book, and the list goes on.) I giggled and laughed as I pulled each item out of the basket!! I received thinking of you cards and notes. It has been a journey I would not wish on anyone, but I was blessed to be surrounded with prayer and Pom Pom cheers! I’m now retired and living cancer free and feeling richly blessed!!!!

  • Lori Christiansen

    Agree with most but the “I’m praying for you” To me this equates with ” I’m doing nothing for you” as I don’t believe in religion or any gods. Tell me you will feed my dogs, or clean my kitchen or do my laundry. These are things that I will be unable to do! Help me with actions, not prayers.

  • Susan Teshu

    As a cancer patient, I do not like when people praise me for being strong or tell me you’ve got this because it makes me feel like I can’t show you how I am when I am not feeling strong. And having had no evidence of disease and then having a recurrence, I am very wary of optimistic language. Cancer sucks is always true for me. It also doesn’t help me much to hear that you or someone else survived many years of cancer because even though we both have kidney cancer, mine has metastasized. I know that people always mean well, but I don’t like to have to translate. Unless someone knows me very well, I wish you the very best is the best thing to say to me.

  • Jane E Hewett

    I’ve had breast cancer twice. I’m also a nurse in PICU & worked during all of my treatments both times – chemo & radiation. Since I only wore a bandana on my head, plenty of people in my large hospital knew I had cancer. The most uplifting people said to me, whether they knew me or not, was “Hi/Hey/GoodMorning/etc. How are you doing today?” It always made me smile in return & say, “I’m good, ThankYou!” I wish they all knew how it helped me thru those work days!

  • Tom Dowd

    Well, I’m a 23 year survivor of all the horrors of cancer treatment. Took about a year out of my life. I like the joke part. I really needed to laugh, because it was tough to find much funny about the whole situation. Had a nurse like the one mentioned who knew all the right things to say.

  • KM

    How about simply starting with ,”How can I help you?”
    Or ask if the person would like to chat about things. And before you offer prayers, make sure you have some understanding of the person’s religious beliefs.

  • Sue

    ‘I love you’. There were days when I felt like a burden to my family. The surgeries, the trips to the doctor for reconstruction when I couldn’t drive due to medications… to hear that they still loved me on days I didn’t love myself very much.

  • Susan Lane

    I hate ‘you’ve got this. Like if I die it’s my fault

  • holly gleason

    I think that validation is huge … having lost my son to cancer, I was in the room when his Hospice Pastor visited many times … he was about Scot’s age and I clearly remember him saying to Scot: “Hey man, this really sucks … I cannot imagine what you are experiencing. We are the same age bro and I can totally relate. If you want to talk about anything at all, I’m here for you. ” I could tell by Scot’s face (he had no speech that day) that it hit the right cord. Say anything that is sincere and loving … just do not go silent! Thanks for the article.

  • Kathy Reed

    I wouldn’t want anyone to say to me bald is beautiful. I hated it & wore a wig. You are not alone & call me if you need anything I didn’t like either. I’m to sick to reach out. If anyone is sick, reach out do something. Send a card, make a meal. Everything is appreciated!

  • Beverly Dean

    A friend who happened to be a nurse practitioner put her arm around me and said “This is a bump in your road of life”. I don’t know if it lightened my fears at the time but that one sentence kept coming back to me and calmed me through my successful surgeries 6 years ago.

  • Thea S.

    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 fold the laundry (or: change the linens, clean out the refrigerator, bring teas for when visitors come, read to the patient while you nap).

  • Barbara W.

    Wonderful suggestions, thank you