Together we will beat cancer


Share your tips on talking about cancer

5 Mar 2019 16:45

We are working with one of the nurses who works on the About Cancer part of the CRUK website and they would like to add some tips for people who know someone with cancer to help them know what to say and how to be a good listener.

They are thinking of making a video/animation for the website and really want your help. All of the tips below have been sent in or gathered from speaking to people with cancer but they would really like to find out what you think too.

Let us know what you think of the following:

Tips on being a good listener

  • Make eye contact but don’t stare
  • Let me lead the conversation
  • Try not to interrupt
  • Give your full attention
  • If you feel upset – you can say so, please don’t change the subject
  • If I cry you don’t need to change the subject – you can say it’s ok to feel sad, it’s normal
  • I don’t mind a friendly touch of a hand but sometimes I don’t want it, so if I pull away its to do with me not you so just give me a bit of space.
  • I don’t want advice…… unless I ask for it
  • Silences are ok – you don’t have to fill them.

What should I say to someone who has cancer?

  • This must be a tough time for you. 
  • I’m sorry you’re going through something like this
  • Do you want a lift to or from your appointments/treatment?
  • It’s ok to say I don’t know what to say
  • Have you seen … (film recommendations really help when you’re hanging around for appointments or just vegging on the sofa)
  • I can’t imagine how you feel
  • I know staying positive can be really hard, how are you really?

If you have any ideas of your own or feel any of the above really are way off the mark please do let us know Happy I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts

Many Thanks

Moderator Sarah


Share your tips on talking about cancer

5 Mar 2019 17:24 in response to Moderator Sarah

I have found that it is okay to talk about other things than the cancer diagnosis.  People I have cared for still liked to keep up with the interests they had before their diagnosis and at least one complained that he didn't want people tiptoeing round him (both literally and conversationally).  Of course I cannot speak for every cancer patient but this is one of the things that struck me.  Annie

Share your tips on talking about cancer

5 Mar 2019 17:39 in response to Annieliz

Hi I found a lot of people hue know about my cancer and say your looking well I didn't mind at first but after a while it was a bit of a nuisance it might not be what you meant but I wondered if others had that problem. 


Share your tips on talking about cancer

5 Mar 2019 19:07 in response to Moderator Sarah

Hi Sarah,

It would be worth pointing them towards this much-loved thread

My only real advice is to remember that we are all individuals, no-one likes to feel pitied and that what works for one person won't work for another. e.g. hugs from strangers are welcomed by some people but I find them intrusive and unwelcome. 

Best wishes


Share your tips on talking about cancer

6 Mar 2019 07:22 in response to Moderator Sarah

Hi I think most people would like to be treated as they were before the cancer, while I was having kemo I still want to work when I was OK I was treated like a workmate and nothing else. When I got home family came round and they shied away from a lot of subjects it was that obvious.


Share your tips on talking about cancer

6 Mar 2019 14:23 in response to Billygoat

As people have said we are all different and what some might like others may not. 

My two pennies worth ...

1) don’t ignore the person with cancer just because you don’t know what to say or feel uncomfortable.

2) ask them how they are, don’t make personal remarks on how they must be feeling or looking.

3) ask what you can do to help;  babysitting/shopping/picking up a prescription/cooking/transport to hospital appointments/financial help etc

4) offer to go with them to their appointments/treatment



Share your tips on talking about cancer

9 Mar 2019 08:55 in response to Moderator Sarah

Hi Sarah Happy

Thanks for the question.

You be you and I'll be me. Cancer is such a roller coaster of a ride that any way of action or reaction by others will never satisfy in all situations.What works today may well be seen as insensitive tomorrow simply because our pain, sickness and fear has returned. But with that said there are still a few ways you can be more sensitive to cancer victims.

An offer of specific help is top of the list. In crisis situations people can be more relaxed if they know there basic needs are being met. Everything from hospital visits to pet adoption could be on our minds. Thank you for your sympathy but I'd rather you wait for the funeral and comment in the book at the back of the hall. I don't want to listen to you ramble on about how unfair my disease is. That could be viewed as insensitive by me but you're not the one with an upset stomach and splitting headache.

An offer of 24/7 availability. Making the offer to be available for phone calls even in the middle of the night is a real comfort to cancer victims who live on there own. It's scary to think your alone in the world between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am. We probably all have someone we could call in an emergency but sometimes our minds are racing, we can't sleep, we're scared and we need to talk. Having an offer of "call me anytime day or night" will probably never be tested but knowing there is always someone willing to listen is of great comfort to those of us who live alone. Make the offer and the majority of us will be truly touched by your sensitivity.

Listen - Listen - Listen - Listen!!!  Are you listening? Everyone learns by hearing themselves speak. That's why one on one therapy is so effective. You may have my answer, it may even be obvious but until I come to the conclusion through verbally expressing my thoughts and feelings, your answer to my problem just wont be as effective. Cancer or not, if we are suffuring let us speak and in the process figure it out for ourselves. My uncle taught me many years ago how to pause in conversation. Instead of responding to what the person just said, silently wait up to 5 seconds and that person will have started talking again. The brightest people with the best advice are the ones who shut up and listen.You'll find it's not only the best way, it's also the easiest.

You be you and I'll be me. Once the news of ones disease has been absorbed by everyone around the victim, go back to the way things used to be. Treat me with no more concern then someone with a cold or perhaps a broken wrist. We don't want pity and we don't want to be constantly reminded we are sick and probably going to die. Special treatment fuels our fears and aggravates our emotions. I know you mean well but special treatment is unusual. I as a cancer victim just want to feel as normal as my health will allow me. So please, just be yourself. If you can't do that naturally then admit it to me and lets talk honestly. Lets clear the air and get our old friendship back on track.

The time for outward concern and special treatment is in the final stages of my disease. When I'm bedridden or close to death - if it goes that way - then you can turn on the sirens and flash the lights. The last stage of my disease is when you can start treating me as the sick person that I am. In the meantime I just want to enjoy as much of my life as I can with my people by my side. So don't keep reminding me I'm sick. Treat me as normal as possible and if necessary, get over your own fear.


When it comes to the video I'd like them to teach a few basic rules on what cancer victims are looking for but most importantly, teach them to be themselves for all the reasons I just stated.

Just a note to other cancer victims, yes we want to be treated in certain ways but we must remember our disease affects everyone in our circle. Friends and family also need healing and may not be able to meet our needs during there own recovery from shock anger and fear. Bottom line, if everyone on both sides of the equasion would just put there focus on the other person, no one would need need to be taught anything.  Happy