What to say/what not to say to someone with cancer … 7 characters in search of a T-shirt!

Most cancer blogs seem to have posts devoted to the topic of the things that people say to people with cancer.  I’ve come across some brilliant posts that made me laugh and groan because they made me realise that dealing with uncomfortable reactions and comments, is alas, an occupational hazard for every cancer patient.

I’ve written my own variations on “what to say … what not to say”:



Those two posts were a long list of “don’ts” written with the cancer patient on the indignant moral high ground, and must have made readers feel that they have to tip-toe around the cancer patient for fear of saying the wrong thing, or that cancer patients have no sense of humour!


Typical response to “I’ve got cancer”

The fact is: cancer seems to inspire foot-in-mouth disease-type responses.  At the end of the day, we’re all imperfect.  The words “sorry if what I said upset you” go a long way to patching things up, and people on the cancer journey are really very grateful for (and need) all the support (and kind words) we get.

Here is a summary of the posts (with a lighter touch) of some of the characters I’ve met, in response to “I’ve got cancer”.  (I’m tempted to get these made up into T-shirts!)


The Chemo Saint. Never sick, never lost her hair, ran a marathon, worked through chemo

1.  The Chemo Saint

It’s meant to be reassuring, but we’ve all been told of the person who sailed through chemotherapy.  She/he was never sick, never lost her hair, ran a fund-raising marathon every day, and worked through all 36 cycles of chemotherapy!  I call her the Chemo Saint.  The fact is, chemotherapy is a very individual thing – people have different types of chemo, and different reactions.  We all hope and pray we sail through it, but the reality is, it’s a grim treatment.  There is a tendency to want to romanticise cancer treatments because they’re so awful and in the real world, no one would volunteer for them.  It’s nice to have reassurance, but on the other hand, it may make the cancer patient feel inferior if she doesn’t sail through chemotherapy.  Please leave the Chemo Saint in the cupboard where she belongs!

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“Man With Friend With Cancer ‘Going Through A Rough Time”

Updated 5 January 2014 re. cancer fatigue

I’ve written two posts on the book “Cancer Etiquette” as guides to what to say or not to say if someone you know has cancer:

Book reviews – Cancer Etiquette Part 1

Books review – Cancer Etiquette Part 2 – what to say and not to say to someone who has cancer

The following article, from the Onion (a satirical site), is a gentle poke at what is usually an awkward subject, a kind of reverse cancer story from the point-of-view of the friend of the cancer patient.   It takes all the standard cliches of a cancer patient’s journey and applies it to the supporting friend.

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