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Things you probably shouldn't say to a cancer patient

stayingcalm's picture
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Great article from Christopher Hitchens from Vanity Fair

Posts: 829
Joined: Aug 2010

This was a good article. Can't believe how many stupid things people do say. I know it's hard to find the right words sometime, so maybe that's why it happens. Take care! "Carole"

PhillieG's picture
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I heard him interviewed on NPR the other week and he was talking about this. Good article

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Well, I did this to my cousin. She had advanced cancer. While my cousin was visiting, I talked about a friend of mine whose mother just died from cancer...blah blah blah. My last sentence trailed off like I had run out of air when I realized what an idiot I was being. Luckily for me, my cousin was an amazing, bright woman who realized that I did not mean harm. I had a chance to apologize. She passed away a year later.

Now I have skin cancer. And I get from well meaning friends and family..."skin cancer?, thats nothing.", or my personal favorite, "just get out in the sun it doesn't matter!", amoung other comments.

And I think...just like me...a few years ago.

soccerfreaks's picture
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Should have figured you and Phil for Hitchens fans :)

Take care, my friend,


PS: My favorite one is where I was trying to eat Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner (I think Christmas) just a month or two post head/neck cancer surgery, and a lady we had over (a widowed lady we invited every year) sat beside me at dinner table and commented on how she wished she had my willpower as I struggled to eat tiny bits of anything. HAHAHAHA.

Always makes me laugh.

AussieMaddie's picture
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great article thanks for linking it

I am recovering from Thyroid cancer and the worst thing i hear is "well if your going to get cancer then Thyroid cancer is a good one" or something to the like from Doctors.

I have gotten to the point that i asked if they wanted a transplant of my thyroid tissue.

Mind you I love going to cancer support groups where everyone is eithor a survivor, or battleing cancer or a loved one. Sure we talk about friends faimly and such who have died of cancer or our own personal battles but it helps in that situation since if you dont feel like talking about cancer then you just dont show up to that group meeting

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My daughter-in-law who is blind is very blunt and when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer told me "Well, if you have to have cancer, that's probably the best kind to have because it's so easy to treat!"
My next cancer episode was breast cancer... I am very short - 4'10" - and before the mastectomy - rather well-endowed and could not reach the bottom of my washing machine to transfer the clothes to the dryer. This same daughter-in-law said "Well, as soon as you heal up and aren't sore, you should be able to reach the clothes now!" Bless her little heart... You just gotta' love 'em don't you??

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Joined: May 2011

" i know how you feel." welp, hate to say it, but even if you have fought cancer, you still dont know how i feel. " you have such courage!" well, good it is showing now because sometimes the fear is overwhelming. " keep up the faith!" as opposed to what? glad to see others have the same experiences as i do. sometimes i just gotta laugh at the good intentions of others.

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Joined: Apr 2011

NOT that I'm opposed to thinking positive, but I hate the censorship. Hey, sometimes I am afraid/mad/resentful/depressed/just plain whiny, and I need to be allowed to be that in order to get past it. I have a friend who does sort of a virtual fingers-in-the-ears, "la la la la la" whenever I express any thought that isn't happy.

soccerfreaks's picture
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Hmmm...my wife has been doing that for more than 30 years and it has nothing to do with cancer :)

Take care,


lbinmsp's picture
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I get sick to death (pun intended) - when people say I need to be positive! I always say -I am positive - positive that I have cancer. WOOOHOOO!

Hondo's picture
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I am positive that I feel bad and I am not going to work today….

AussieMaddie's picture
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Joined: May 2011

Reading the article, I see it written:
"get straight to the point and say what the odds are. The swiftest way of doing this is to note that the thing about Stage Four is that there is no such thing as Stage Five."

I must make a note to ask what stage I am at with my peritoneal cancer. I was told to prepare for the worse from day one, but some sentences seem say the same thing more precisely. Maybe we just hear them differently.


"there was the unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable"

I've not yet been in this position (I think). Will probably come, but I can place what he means.

Posts: 12
Joined: Nov 2007

I found this was just an accepted greeting in passing at school, and the acceptable answer was to be positive, no matter who was answering or how you felt. I don't think anyone truly listens to your answer. I read on the ACS site that a much better question, if someone really wants to communicate with a cancer patient and take the time to listen, is "What are you feeling today?"

The communication I seemed to have to deal with was, "Gee, you look great." Now, I actually looked horrible. Steroids had made me put on 60 pounds. The chemo was doing a number on my skin and it looked abolutely horrible. I could no longer use the chemicals to dye my hair. (privately, I loved my white halo around my face) My eyelids had started to droop so much, I could no longer see well enough to read. My feet hurt so badly, I had started waddling. So I truly was a sight that contributed to sore eyes.

I decided that what they really meant was, Gee, you still have your hair, OR Gee, you're still alive. Never expected to see you again. I did't take too much offense, because I never expected to see them again either, but 4 years later with my 2nd recurrence behind me, here I am making excuses for my well-meaning friends and acquaintances.

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Joined: Oct 2017

The worst thing I've encountered was random strangers and "friends" who suddenly started showing up and messaging to ask "what are you going to do with your farm?" I've been asked to list it by realtors, asked when it was to be auctioned off, and received multiple offers. Mind you I have never even considered selling as it is in a trust for my children. Since the word got around that I have cancer people apparently expect me to sell out and die. I'm appalled by the nerve of people. 

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