What to Say and Do When a Friend has Cancer

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When a friend is facing cancer, it can be difficult to know what to say. As a result, we often choose to say  nothing—or, worse, the wrong thing. If a friend is battling cancer, take a deep breath and think before you speak. Here are some general guidelines:


  • Don’t use well-meaning but trite phrases such as, “Everything will work out” and “God has a plan.”
  • Don’t say, “I know just how you feel” or “I understand.” Unless you have endured the exact same thing, you really don’t know how the person feels.
  • Don’t make comparisons such as “My Aunt Sally had cancer, and she had treatment X.” Cancer comes in many varieties, and different people need different treatment. Let the doctors do the doctoring and instead focus on being a friend.
  • Don’t trivialize the pain with such phrases as “It’s just hair; it will grow back.”
  • Don’t pity the patient.


  • Listen. Just simply listen with an open heart. Maintain eye contact and be present for your friend.
  • Say, “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I am here for you.” And be there.
  • Be natural. Treat your friend in the same way you always have.
  • Maintain regular contact. Your friend may feel too tired or ill to socialize, but continue to check in and let him or her know you are there.
  • Extend invitations to social events and let him or her say yes or no as appropriate. Social outings provide an opportunity to take a break from focusing on cancer. Your friend will appreciate the invitation even if he or she cannot attend. Don’t exclude your friend.
  • Incorporate humor when possible. Laughter can be very uplifting.
  • Be specific. Rather than saying, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” say, “I have free time on Monday mornings; can I mow your lawn and pick up your groceries?”
  • Make plans for the future. This gives your friend something to look forward to and also indicates that you plan on sticking around for the duration.
  • Be positive and encouraging.