If your loved one is diagnosed with cancer, the pit in your stomach is real. You think, “This can’t get any worse!” And then…it does. As you begin to share the reality of your journey with others, oh dear-sweet-humans, they say unhelpful things. I don’t think they mean to inflict pain with their statements or questions, but they could do better with some forethought. Take a moment to educate yourself and others about seven things NOT to say when someone is diagnosed with cancer.
1. God won’t give you more than you can handle.
Yes, He might. Living in this broken world, you may very well be dealt something exceptionally difficult that requires strength beyond yourself to handle.
The often-quoted verse in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is about temptation, not challenges, and having a choice to make when confronted with temptation.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
1 Corinthians 10:13
God will allow giant challenges in your life. He will give you more than you can handle. In fact, the bible is full of examples where God gave folks more than they thought they could handle. Remember David and Goliath? Joseph? Mary? Job? The list goes on and on!
But God is there for everyone who calls upon His name.
2. God picks the strongest to show others His true power.
God is all about love. And wholeness. And ultimately perfection. He does not delight in “picking” people to suffer.
So, do not think a statement like this to someone diagnosed with cancer is a compliment. He is not punishing you if you have cancer. He loves you. And He hurts when you hurt. In the Psalms we are reminded that He bottles our tears because God is for us.
A helpful statement would be to speak about a specific way you see God’s power through the person on the cancer journey.
3. But you look so healthy.
Is that a compliment? I suppose one might think it is. But it feels a bit like, “You’ve got a great personality” when people are talking about beauty.
When you have cancer there is a battle raging inside of you. And you are keenly aware of it. A battle that no new hairstyle or eyeshadow will cover up. And the cancer patient is not healthy. One popular definition of healthy is “without disease.”
So looks are deceptive. A better compliment avoids the word “healthy”.
Here are a few suggestions: “You look great in that color!” “Your eyes seem to sparkle today.” “I love that you’re a part of this event today. Thanks for being here.” “Your smile lights up a room.”
4. Will you lose your hair?
A woman is not Samson. She will not lose her power if someone cuts her hair or she loses every strand. There is no need to speak about a cancer patient’s hair with so many other positive things to discuss.
So, even though your friend may or may not lose their hair during chemotherapy, discussion of hair loss, except for those closest to her, is out of bounds.
5. Don’t say, “My friend had breast cancer and she…”
Everyone’s story is very unique and personal. To someone who is physically and emotionally tired, a story about another friend’s cancer journey may feel like a comparison—a bar they, now, have to jump over.
A better encouragement is to join them in their personal journey and remind them of their strength and how loved they are.
6. I read an article about ways you can eat, a supplement, or exercise you can do.
While some of these things may be helpful, they may not be the best for each person. There is a lot of misinformation about what works and what doesn’t. And each person is designed differently and on a different path.
The best thing to do is not offer advice about any part of their treatment.
What works for one person, may not work for others. And changing course outside her prescribed plan could lead to unexpected issues. Most importantly, each treatment plan is unique and should fit with the plan set up between you and your doctor. Avoid sharing what you may think are “tips and tricks” when talking to someone with cancer.
7. Does cancer run in your family?
The trauma of getting a cancer diagnosis leads to many emotions. The last thing the person with cancer needs to do is go on a cancer hunt. It will only lead to more stress, worries, and fear of what the future might hold. Now they need to worry about passing it down to their kids? How awful!
She has enough on her plate. Rather than adding to the challenges the cancer patient is facing, consider ways you can support cancer organizations, and what you can do to specifically and tangibly help that person.
There are many organizations out there which provide encouragement, funding, and ongoing services. And lots of practical needs for a family coping with a cancer diagnosis. You can always pray for her. God is at work and loves her and her family very much. Join them in prayer for her healing, strength, wisdom, and power to move beyond this disease.
Feel free to share this article with others to improve the level of respect shown to those with cancer. Some people just don’t know any better. But they can now. Let’s help everyone be mindful of what they are saying to a woman with cancer.
Certified coach and two-time cancer survivor who guides women through cancer diagnosis, treatment journey, or recovery to instill hope and comfort using practical methods and tools including her book, Divine Drift.