What Not to Say to Cancer Patients: Cancer Companion – Episode 6

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Welcome to this week’s Mini Cancer Companion Podcast! This week, we’re discussing what NOT to say to cancer patients.

At 3 minutes and 42 seconds, it’s our quickest episode yet.

We surveyed 500+ community members to find out how they had been spoken to since being diagnosed. We asked about positive and negative comments; what was helpful and what wasn’t.

And even though we know discussing cancer isn’t always easy, the results of the survey still shocked us.


On this week’s episode:

  • We recap the worst comments from our survey – and figure out what not to say to cancer patients. You really won’t believe what some people have been told!  
  • Then we talk about how to avoid these statements – and give a few handy tips to help you navigate these conversations in future.
  • Last but not least, we revisit our interview with breast cancer patient Amanda Luke. Amanda talks about the importance of friends, family, and support throughout the cancer journey.


Background reading:

  • Then take a look at our Talking About Cancer survey results. Did you know that many cancer patients don’t like being told to “stay positive?” And most patients just want to have someone who will listen to them.
  • We’ve also compiled some helpful tips for talking about cancer. They’re especially useful if you’re struggling to find the right words to say to a cancer patient in your life.

Cancer Support Map

We’d love to know what you think!

Email Kylie at kylie@livebetterwith.com. Tweet us @LBWCancer. Join our Facebook page at facebook.com/livebetterwith.

And if you’re really keen, we’d love for you to leave us a voice message at: speakpipe.com/livebetterwith.

How do I listen?

Good question.

Our audio show is a “podcast.” A podcast is similar to a radio show, with one key difference: you don’t have to tune in at a specific time to hear the episode. You can listen to it whenever and wherever you want. Just click the play button above on any device that you’d like to use to listen to the podcast, sit back and relax.



7 Replies to “What Not to Say to Cancer Patients: Cancer Companion – Episode 6”

  1. Please don’t tell me I look ” well, fabulous, really good etc” I know you mean well, but it really is soul destroying.
    Don’t tell me about your friend, colleague, auntie or friend of a friend, who had breast cancer ( the same as you ) and is now back at work and back to normal.
    Please don’t tell me to stay POSITIVE and don’t GIVE UP.

  2. The ‘worst things’ to say to cancer patients may well be the things we all say when we don’t know what else to say. Nobody sets out to upset others so it’s worth being understanding. I have terminal cancer and sometimes get very unpalatable comments. ‘None of us knows when we’re going to die. I could get knocked over tomorrow. You could outlive me.’ I know the standard responses to this but prefer to shrug it off. I don’t want to enter into combat with friends. I know this isn’t everyone’s way. And in some ways I prefer people to make their awkward but well-meaning comments than cross the street to avoid me. That’s happened to me too! My message to them is: ‘say those silly things if you must but don’t hide from me. Give me a hug!’

    1. I also have terminal cancer and I am always told how well I look. I know it’s meant well but sometimes I feel guilty for always making the effort, I am not sure how I am supposed to look. It would be great not to mention my health because I will if I want to.

      1. Yes, I get told this as well and although I don’t really mind being told how good I look, I worry about how I’m supposed to maintain the glamour when I get even sicker. Do I want to be the best looking corpse in Sussex?

        I must say that being told to ‘stay positive’ is so annoying! I always smile sweetly but what I’d really like to say is ‘Shut the fuck up! You try facing this sort of death and see how positive you are!’

  3. Have to disagree about the ‘It’s only hair, it’ll grow back!” comment. I was freaking out about losing my hair and my hairdresser, who had himself been through cancer 5 years ago, said this to me. It actually helped me to accept the inevitable, not go for cold capping (more discomfort), and focus on the positive future. You don’t expect your hairdresser to say that – I expected him to offer all sorts of tips for hanging on to it at all costs, but he was pragmatic and helpful. When my hair started to fall out he shaved it really short for me at the end of the day when I was the only person in the salon and also trimmed my wig to a style that suited me. He didn’t even charge me for this. He is a star!

  4. Yes, I am positive but please stop telling me to be positive.
    Yes, I know my hair will grow back but please appreciate the journey I have to go through first.
    Yes, I have lost weight but I did not choose to loose it this way.
    Yes, I know statistics show 1 in 3-4 people will or have cancer but please don’t remind me. I am not a statistic.
    Yes, you do know someone with the same diagnosis, but I am not that person or in any way similar. I am an individual.
    No, you do not understand or appreciate what I am going through so please remember that.
    No, I do not have a bucket list, do you?
    And yes, I CAN-CER-VIVE.

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