NEVER Say This to Someone with Cancer | by Teralyn Pilgrim | Oct, 2021

Everyone said the same thing to my mom, and it was the worst thing they could say

My mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. As soon as word got out, friends and family poured out their support. Condolences, prayers, food, advice, tears, laughter, visits, gifts. Anything they could think of to help, they did it.

I kept all of the cards people gave her. They’re in a book that’s six inches thick.

We were all moved by the overwhelming support from all the people who loved her. However…

I learned a valuable lesson about dealing with cancer, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t share it with others. There is one thing you should NEVER say to someone with cancer…and nearly everyone said it.

We All Mean Well

When people say inappropriate things to us, it almost always comes from a place of love. Think of someone asking if a woman with a large stomach is pregnant. They’re asking because they want to congratulate her on such exciting news. They wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t care about her.

Another example: when my mom passed away, a few people asked me if we were close. They’re just trying to gauge how hurt I am so they can console me in the right way.

Still, it’s not a great question. What if we weren’t close? What if we were estranged and she passed away with hurt feelings and unspoken words between us?

The only correct answer is that yes, we were close. Even in situations were that might not be true.

My dad started dating again within a few months of my mother’s passing, and he got in a serious relationship right away. People asked me how I felt about it. This also came from a place of love. They wanted to know if I was okay.

But my feelings about my dad dating again are some of the most complex and nuanced emotions I’ve ever had. People always asked me in public places, too. It’s impossible to delve into all my thoughts about this in the few minutes I have during a casual conversation in the church hallway.

I’m not mad, and I’m not annoyed. They care about me. Everyone means well.

When Someone has Cancer, Never Say…

My mom’s friends and family made an inappropriate comment when she was diagnosed — a comment that came from love — and they said it over and over and over again.

Once out of frustration, Mom told me, “What makes everyone think I want to hear this?”

We often console people by sharing our experiences with them. This communicates that they aren’t suffering alone, and that we have the empathy and the experience they need.

Everyone we knew had experienced cancer in some form. Everyone told her all about their experiences in an attempt to connect and comfort her.

Sweet friends, right?


Everyone they knew with cancer had died.

Imagine it from my mother’s point-of-view. She was barely holding it together from day to day. Constantly, she tried to convince herself that she wasn’t just handed a death sentence.

Few people said they knew someone with cancer who had survived. That’s what she needed to hear. Instead, every conversation was, “My sister had cancer. She passed away last year,” or “I lost my husband to cancer.”

If you’ve said this to someone, forgive yourself. Right now. I don’t want you to feel one second of guilt about this. You didn’t know the effect those words would have, and you came from a place of love.

Just please don’t ever say it again.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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