Ten Things NOT to Say to People Who Have Cancer
These are real actual things people have said to cancer patients.
1. Don’t ask cancer patients if they are going to lose their hair, it is upsetting and misguided. Cancer doesn’t make you lose your hair, chemotherapy does. There are many types of cancer, which are treated in different ways, and it doesn’t necessarily involve chemotherapy or hair loss.
2. Don’t blame a person for not going to the doctor sooner, and say it is their own fault for not looking after themselves. We live in a toxic society, illness happens to everyone. Illness is a defined human trait that no one escapes from, no matter how healthy we think we are and how often we go to the doctor.
3. Don’t blame a person for getting cancer because of their lifestyle habits. Some people who smoke get lung cancer, others don’t, but it is always unfairly assumed that they are smokers. While it is not a healthy habit it is still misguided to blame people at a time when they need the most compassion and understanding.
4. Don’t say that they have negative or bad karma, and that they must have done something bad, if not in this life, then in a past life. Saying to them that they must really be unbalanced and harbour dark energy is unhelpful, or that they must think really negative thoughts to get cancer and must be vengeful, or unforgiving.
5. Don’t tell them to just think happy thoughts because negativity will do more harm. People are allowed to feel what they want to feel. It is unhealthy to suppress emotions. Expressing all emotions is natural and therapeutic. Don’t placate and pretend everything is happy when clearly it isn’t, it’s ignoring the issue. Don’t deny people their feelings just because you can’t handle the upset.
6. Don’t tell them to keep it a secret or tell them not to tell anyone like it is something to be ashamed about. It is a personal matter whether someone wants to share their health issues or not. If they do share it with you, it means they need your support, understanding and empathy during a difficult time.
7. Don’t ask if it’s okay to smoke cigarettes around a person diagnosed with cancer while you light up a cigarette anyway. Or give excuses like it should be fine because you are by an open window, or wave your arms around and act like it is clearing the second-hand smoke. Minimizing toxicity during this critical time is paramount. This should be a no-brainer.
8. Don’t think that god quotes like “God only gives us what we can handle,” or “it’s just gods plan” are well meaning. It implies that you don’t have faith or are not spiritual if we question.
9. Don’t say they should pray if they are not religious or spiritual, it is misguided if they do not believe in the power of prayer. Although some people may find other people praying for them helpful not everybody does.
10. Don’t ask them to run or walk a marathon for a cancer charity event or to donate money towards cancer causes, unless it is their idea. Otherwise it preys upon people during a vulnerable time.
These prevalent attitudes and reactions to people with cancer in society may be well intended, but they really are a way for people to distance themselves from pain and illness. It is a misguided self-protective mechanism that is really mean-spirited and lacks empathy in a time when support and understanding are important. Blame blocks healing and isn’t helpful.
What would you want someone to say to you if it was you?