Ways to Respond When Someone You Know Has Cancer

By: The American Cancer Society

You’re not alone if you don’t know what to say to someone who has cancer. You might not know the person very well, or you may have a close relationship. The most important thing you can do is mention the situation in some way that feels comfortable for you. You can show interest and concern, you can express encouragement, and/or you can offer support. Sometimes the simplest expressions of concern are the most meaningful. And sometimes just listening is the most helpful thing you can do.

Respond from your heart! Here are some ideas:

  • “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”
  • “I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this.”
  • “How are you doing?”
  • “If you would like to talk about it, I’m here.”
  • “Please let me know how I can help.”
  • “I’ll keep you in my thoughts.”

While it’s good to be encouraging, it’s also important not to show false optimism or tell the person with cancer to always stay positive. Doing these things might seem to discount their very real fears, concerns, or sad feelings. It’s also tempting to say that you know how the person feels. But while you may know this is a trying time, no one can know exactly how any person with cancer feels.

Using humor can be an important way of coping. It can also be another approach to support and encouragement. Let the person with cancer take the lead; it’s healthy if they find something funny about a side effect, like hair loss or increased appetite, and you can certainly join them in a good laugh. This can be a great way to relieve stress and take a break from the more serious nature of the situation. But you never want to joke unless you know the person with cancer can handle it and appreciate the humor.

When the person with cancer looks good, let them know! Avoid making comments when their appearance isn’t as good, such as “You’re looking pale,” or “You’ve lost weight.” It’s very likely that they’re acutely aware of it, and they may feel embarrassed if people comment on it.

It’s usually best not to share stories about family members or friends who have had cancer. Everyone is different, and these stories may not be helpful. Instead, it’s OK to let them know that you are familiar with cancer because you’ve been through it with someone else. Then they can pick up the conversation from there.  (See full article here)


Keep the following in mind when interacting with a friend or family member who has recently been diagnosed with cancer…

 Stay in touch. Avoiding them because you don’t know what to say can end up unintentionally being hurtful.

 One of the best ways to show that you care is by listening and giving them your full attention.

 Use comforting and encouraging words – but let them set the tone for the conversation.

Read How Not to Say the Wrong Thing and download the flow-chart How to Say the Right Thing to the Right Person.

You might also be interested in the following articles:

Did you find this helpful?  Love Transfusion is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and depends on user support to continue offering our services.  Please consider a tax-deductible donation of any amount:

Still not sure what to say?  A gift speaks volumes and can help a person battling cancer in a number of ways.  First, it shows you care and momentarily lightens their load as they focus on the gift.  Secondly, it provides a distraction while they use it.  Most importantly, it serves as a tangible reminder of your support for them through their situation.



Click on the suggestions below for more specific ideas:




What do you get for someone who has everything? Give a gift in their honor to help others who are hurting.

Love Transfusion

Love Transfusion, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which provides support for individuals and families going through crisis situations.

Please consider a gift donation to Love Transfusion.

At your request, we will send a card letting them know you made a donation to Love Transfusion, Inc. in their name.  (Please provide the individuals name and mailing address in the comment area when making the donation)

Do you have any suggestions of things to say to someone who has cancer?  We are especially interested in hearing from people who have been on the receiving end.  What did people say or do that helped you through your situation?  Please share below…

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