What to say to someone recently diagnosed with cancer

February 03, 2016 | by Joseph Kash, MD

We’ve all had that feeling of not knowing what to say and when to say it. When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, your mind may go blank and you may be at a loss for words.

It is natural to feel awkward, sad, nervous and even speechless during this intimate time. The best thing you can do in this type of situation is express support and encouragement for your friend.

Here are a few options for what to say someone newly diagnosed:

  • “How are you doing?”  You can’t go wrong when asking a person how they are feeling. Keep it about them, not you. Let them tell you, on their terms, where they are in the process.
  • I am here for you.” Cancer can be isolating. Reassure your friend by letting them know you care and you aren’t going anywhere.
  • “What can I do for you?” Be attentive and specific about ways to help. Offer to drive with them to doctor appointments or provide dinner during the week.
  • “I’m sorry to hear you are going through this.” Show empathy and provide a shoulder to lean on. Being compassionate not only will comfort your friend, but will also show them you truly care.
  • “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I am here for you.”  Honesty is the best policy. Admit that you are unsure of what to say. Speak through body language by placing your hand over your friend’s hand or give your friend a hug.

The best medicine is often listening to someone express their thoughts, feelings and emotions. Listen to your friend’s words and follow their lead. If your friend is open regarding treatment options, engage in conversation and ask questions. If they are giving vague and short responses, do not pry for deeper information.

As time goes on, stay connected and follow-up with your friend to see how they are doing. Talk about topics other than cancer. Share laughs, funny stories and special moments. Make plans to get together, compliment when the moment is right and provide comfort when it is needed.

How do you comfort your friend? Tell us in the below comments.

Find cancer resources at Edward-Elmhurst Health.
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