What to Say to a Cancer Patient, What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient, What to Buy for a Cancer Patient

I’ve included what to say to a cancer patient, what to do for a cancer patient, what to write in a greeting card for a cancer patient, and  the things NOT to say to a cancer patient.   After my own experience with Stage 3 Breast Cancer and over a year of treatment, I learned what things help heal a cancer patient.   Let the gift or card do the talking for you.  Just do something for them!!

Top 5 things you can do for a cancer patient:

1)  Send a greeting card – or send more than one.  Greeting cards have been a source of great strength to me.  I have received multiple cards from many people.  This has surprised me.   At least 8 people have sent me over 10 cards each!  One friend sent me a card every week for ONE YEAR!  If you are at a loss for words, the best cards I have gotten say things like Courage, Strength, Encouragement – simple messages with important meaning.

Food is difficult especially if the Cancer Patient is receiving Chemotherapy.  Before you bring food, ask what they can eat.

2)  Drop something off to their house or send it by mail. Inspirational gifts are the best.  I had told my Oncologist I wanted to quit chemo.  I wanted to just die and give up I was so sick .  On that very day an old high school friend sent me an inspirational sign.  Knowing she cared and the sign said what I needed to hear, I decided I had the courage to keep fighting.   That is why I designed and am now selling the Wood Inspirational Signs.  One gift literally saved my life!

I began my store to help other cancer patients and help pay for my medical bills.  These signs are SOLID WOOD 9 inches x 13 inches – LOOKS VERY EXPENSIVE nothing cheap about them.  I take PayPal and all major credit cards at my  SECURE store run by Shopify at  www.hellocourage.com    or click on signs for more information:


3)  Ask them if you can take them to treatment, a medical appointment, or a pharmacy.  You may need to be insistent with this, but make sure they know you are available and willing to do so.  Do NOT make a casual offer like, “Oh call me if you need a ride.”  The cancer patient does not have the energy to call and make arrangements. 

4)  If they have small children, ask how you can help with the children – babysitting, food for kids, taking them for a day, something, anything.

5)  Ask if you can visit, but let them call the shots.  Be specific and ask them to set the rules as far as time and date, and always give them an out if they don’t feel up to it.  Make sure you are not sick or have been around sick people, as this is disastrous to a cancer patient.


My chemo caps get great reviews starting at less than $12.00  - click on the chemo cap for more information!  FREE SHIPPING to Continental USA.  I can ship it to another address and add a gift card for no additional cost.




5 things to ask a Cancer Patient:

1) How are you feeling today? It is NEVER WRONG to ask someone how they are feeling especially today.
2) Where are you in your treatment? Cancer patients need to talk about this.
3) What are your chemotherapy infusions like? The first time someone asked me this made me feel so loved as they cared enough to ask this question.
4) Would you tell me about your medical team? I had a couple of people ask me this. I loved the question because it gave me the opportunity to share the wonders of my medical team. This was important to me.
5) What has been the most difficult part of being a cancer patient? I don’t think anyone had ever asked me this. But it is thought provoking. It would have been a question I would have liked to have been asked.

5 things to write to a cancer patient in a greeting card:

1)  I am very sorry you have to go through this.

2)  I admire your courage and strength to fight this disease.

3)  You are on a very challenging road right now, and you are doing a great job.

4)  My prayers and encouragement are with you.

5)  You are an inspiration to me and many others.

The Top 5 things NOT to say or do to for a Cancer Patient:

1)  Tell them they have been whining or complaining.  Cancer treatment is a living hell.  Unless you have been through chemotherapy, please do not pretend you have any inkling of what they are going through.  It is not like the flu.

2)  Ignore them physically or emotionally – do not run the other way if you see a Cancer Patient at the grocery store or church.   If you feel like you don’t know what to say, simply ask them how they are feeling.  The Cancer Patient is still the same person!   They just want you to show you care in any way – a simple “how are you” means alot.

3)  Do NOT tell them about your mother, sister, father, old Aunt Milly and their experiences with the horrors of Chemotherapy, how much they vomited, their terrible death, how badly burned they were through Radiation or other awful stories that will simply depress a Cancer Patient.  If you are going to tell them about someone, tell them about the Cancer Survivor!

4)  Do NOT call them on the telephone, tell them all about you and never bother to ask how they are, how they feel, or how treatment is going.  Ignoring the obvious is watching the elephant in the room.

5)  And NEVER say, “call me if you need me or if I can do something for you” unless you are a really close friend of the cancer patient.   I know we all have good intentions when we make those statements.   The truth is most cancer patients do not have the time or energy to really call.  Please be understanding that the cancer patient does not have the energy to keep up their relationship with you right now in the ways that you may have been accustomed.

I hope these things help you with understanding the needs of a cancer patient.  One small act of love or kindness can make a cancer patient want to live or give up.  It is so important to them.  I know my friends and family kept me alive!  Your kindnesses make a difference!

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36 thoughts on “What to Say to a Cancer Patient, What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient, What to Buy for a Cancer Patient

  1. Great article! Often, people want to be there for one another, but people don’t always know what to say. Thanks for sharing with us and making people aware which comments are positive and effective for vs. which ones aren’t. Great read. Thank you very much!

  2. Can I add to never say “God only gives us what we can handle?” Or how about this… a social worker asked me “how do you feel about cancer?” I stared at her for a minute and said, “I’m curious… how do people usually answer this question?” She said, “Some of them say they are ready for the fight or they have positive stories about their family members beating cancer…”

    Maybe so… It struck me as a really horrible question at the time. Like so horrible, I never sought her out for help at the cancer center. Still gives me some willies.

    • I agree Donna, I am not religious at all, I am neither for or against religion but when people refer to religion and God having something to do with my cancer journey it makes me angry, confused and upset for some reason. And any time I get a question like that social worker asked you I normally go completely silent and move away from that person as quick as I can otherwise I would snap and lose it at that person. I know they are just inquisitive but ask me that question if and when I beat Cancer because going through it…you don’t want to know my answer

  3. I din’t want anybody to tell me I am ‘fighting this disease’. I was a passive recipient of chemo. Fighting talk leaves me weary. (DX Feb2012).
    I don’t want this written in a card.

  4. How about this one………….NEVER ASK STUPID QUESTIONS AS TO WHY THE CANCER PATIENT IS WEARING A SCARF OR A HAT…………..I am still working through my chemotherapy….although I do miss a couple of days every other week……..i have had all four AC treatments and just had my first Taxol a couple of days ago……..Just an example,,,,,,I had a customer LITERALLY YELL AT ME FROM AT LEAST 15 FEET AWAY……….” What’s with the do”????? I am normally a very patient and kind person who avoids confrontation, but that really pushed my buttons that day…………I yelled back ” CHEMOTHERAPY”!!!! He didnt know what to say or where to look……….and that made my day (as well as provoking thumbs up signs to me from customers who were in my line up)

  5. I love the posts and am catching up..dx Aug 2012. I have one suggestion I am a patient with cancer it is apart of me but does not define me/us. I would rather say I am a patient and yes I have cancer. I laughed I actually had someone ask me if I didn’t like my haircut and was this why I was wearing a headscarf..haha!

  6. Don’t tell me how lucky and/or blessed I am because I have so many caring family and friends. I hear it over and over and over. I appreciate my family and friends! And I get so tired of hearing it so often, like I’m a child and “need to be told” or something. I do love my family and friends dog gone it, but what do people want, a cookie or something?

    • Peggy, actually I chuckled when I read your post because gosh, I just had that
      discussion today with someone else! And sometimes cancer patients don’t feel
      very blessed in spite of caring family and friends. Thanks for your honesty!!
      I get it and so will others!

  7. Thank you for this post. I have a co-worker going through chemo right now and this has helped me know how to best support her.

  8. Another good one of what not to say is, “Why are you wearing that funny-looking hat?” on the first day that the cancer patient felt the need to wear a head covering because she is just about bald. Ugh! :) This was my father, today. My hair hasn’t come out in clumps. It’s just thinning and thinning and thinning. Today, after washing it, I couldn’t make it look “not bald” and we were heading to a cookout with a lot of family and friends and little kids. I didn’t feel like fielding the questions from the little kids over and over so I decided to use one of my new, cool head coverings. And I wasn’t feeling too good about it anyways, and that was the first thing out of my dad’s mouth. Later he said I looked like a surgeon. At the cookout my one brother said, “Oh, you’ve gone to wearing a beanie I see.” The next brother said, “Ah, had to resort to a head covering, eh? Looks like a surgeon.” My sister-in-law came by later and said, “Oh, I like your hat. Matches your outfit completely. Looks like a surgeon.” OK, fine. I look like a surgeon. Not in a very good frame of mind, I know, and it will pass. Of course, when I look back on the day, I can actually laugh. I guess it DID look like a surgeon!

    • Cathy – sending you a hug. I am so sorry you had to hear all those things from your family today. Of course, we all know they mean well and don’t know what to say and how to say it. But it still hurts. It can still bring tears to my eyes. I so remember that first public outing when underneath, the hair is almost gone. What we want people to say is, “Oh, it has to be so hard to lose your hair. I am very sorry you have to endure this.” or how about “What a pretty surgeon you would make!” Thanks for your order today, too! I PROMISE you won’t look like a surgeon in them! More like a Hollywood starlet! My best, Cathy. Denise

  9. my least favorite question is “What stage are you?” I feel like they are trying to figure out if I’m going to die anytime soon.

  10. Instead of saying “let me know if there is anything I can do” a friend of mine wrote a list of all the jobs he could do. Some of the things were “I can mow your lawn, take your car in for its service, do your grocery shopping, be a point of contact for others if you don’t feel like taking calls etc.” This was really useful as it broke down the barriers to asking for help.

    • Jo, the sensitivity of your friend brought tears to my eyes.
      That is the most USEFUL and helpful thing I have heard to help a cancer patient
      in two years of writing this blog! He is a hero as are you!! Tell him I said so!

  11. I have to thank you for your blog. I also have a friend going though cancer, she is also my boss. I am at a loss for words, but I have cards to send. I just want her to know that I care. I am saddened because I have not talked to her in a month. She is not returning any of my calls or emails. So I am hoping funny cards will help, that is who we are. I just don’t know where to go from here. Perhaps you can provide me with some ideas.

    • Janne – cards are a really great tool. The cancer patient is overwhelmed and just cannot
      even talk to others sometimes no matter how much they care about you. When she is ready to
      talk, she will. A friend of mine sent me a card a week for an entire year. This was the
      best encouragement… I knew how much she cared. Denise

    • Aww, thanks Serita! I am so glad it is helpful. It is very hard to
      know what to say. I used to always say the “wrong” things even though
      I meant well. Even now as a Cancer Survivor, people will ask me how
      long I’ve survived. I respond, “Two years since diagnosis.” Then often times
      they will tell me about some relative who died at three years, or five years
      or 10 years. They mean well, but it never makes me feel good.

      Thanks for your great comment! Denise

  12. Hello,

    My husband has a co-worker whose wife has cancer, I’ve never met them. My husband has been checking in with him regularly about how she is doing and now they are not sure how much time she has left. They live a few hours away from me so I can’t offer to help but I would like to send her a scarf I knit for her. I just don’t know what to say in the card that I send with it. I know I will end up not mailing it because I am too worried about saying the wrong thing. Can you help please?

    • Nina, I sent you an email. Your kindness will never be forgotten.
      Send the scarf – you will be so glad you did. In the email I sent you
      I said something like this to say in the card.

      I am so sorry you have to go through this. My hope is that the
      scarf I made will help cheer you.

      My thoughts and prayers are with you….

      Keep it short and JUST DO IT!!! Denise

  13. I really enjoyed this site. I am a stage lV bc patient. Diag in Aug. 2013
    So this is all new right now. Thank you all for so much valuable information along with some laughs. God bless, Barb

    • Barbara I am so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic bc in July. My entire skeletal system is involved. I’d love to talk with you more though I’m not sure how to get my email to you. Maybe Denise can help.

      Best to you!

      • Cathy, so glad to hear updates from you! I forwarded your email address
        to Barbara at your request! Oh gosh, my hair was snow white too, but now
        I have dark roots once again!
        So glad the chemo caps have been good to you! Makes me happy!
        And good luck with ECHO results! Sending you a virtual hug!!! Denise

      • Denise i have been reading some of your beautiful messages!!!!! Wow!!!! My mom has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and not taking it very well!!! Other than a card a week ….what else could i do to cheer her up!? Susan Laforest

  14. such helpful stuff here. How can we be an encouragement and source of hope in the darkest areas of life? I am a pastor of a young man going through chemo. I want him to know God’s faithfulness and encouragement and comfort through my presence. Thank you so much for the helpful ideas of how I can be that. I am going to pass this on to some others involved in his life.

  15. I would like to be part of a team that help women with cancer that are needing pampering. Like makeover. I believe this would make a women feel good about herself. I am in The woodlands Texas.

  16. Thank you for this!!! Ill admitt Reading this has built my confidence in knowing that I can help make a difference, will a little more understanding of what to and what not to say :). I am always so afraid of saying the wrong things and really ruining the persons day or something of that sort, and now knowing that is IT OK to ask how that person is feeling makes me smile. My grandpa has been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, and a convo for me has been a struggle trying to stay positive while watching my favorite person in the world be hurting, and theres not a darn thing I can do to stop it. Thank you for assuring me its ok to talk about it with him. Im starting a courage and strength card for him right now. Bless you

    • Hi Laurin – so sorry to hear about your grandpa. Your grandpa needs straight talk.
      I went through watching my dad die of pancreatic cancer. After having been a cancer
      patient now, I realized I never let him talk about HIS feelings. I was just so overcome
      with my emotions. So give your grandpa the greatest gift and talk with him about it!
      I am so glad my article helped you! Prayers for your grandpa, Denise

  17. And also very sorry to hear about your dad… I could not imagine how hard that must have been for you, and yet your still here going strong to help out anyway you can! Im striving to have even half of your charisma! Thank you Thank you Thank you

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