How to Talk to Someone Newly Diagnosed with Cancer

Two women, one holding another's hand, as she receives comfort from a friend after a cancer diagnosis.
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When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, it’s vital to show your support. Studies show that cancer patients who have great emotional support have a higher quality of life and adjust better to the changes cancer brings.

But it can be difficult to know what to say and how to be a friend to someone dealing with cancer. If you’re going to call or visit someone newly diagnosed, we suggest these techniques for having a supportive conversation.

Use Caring Language

While it can be uncomfortable to talk about cancer, it’s important to address the topic to best support your loved one. Show your care and support with simple messages that address their diagnosis without dismissing it. You might say things like:

  • I care about you
  • I’m sorry this happened
  • I’m thinking of you
  • I’m here to listen and help

Even when you have the best intentions, it’s easy to say something that dismisses the person’s feelings or undercuts the seriousness of their diagnosis. If you want to show support, you need to be ready to connect. Some words cut off connection and can make your loved one feel misunderstood. You should avoid saying:

  • Don’t worry
  • I know exactly how you feel
  • So-and-so also has this cancer
  • You’ll be fine

These phrases aren’t helpful even if your goal is to help someone feel more positive.

Listen and Follow Their Lead

After expressing your support once, let your loved one take the lead on the conversation. They may or may not want to discuss their diagnosis or treatment. If they change the subject, move on.

If they do begin talking about their experiences, be an active listener. Don’t interrupt; stay quiet and really listen to how they feel.

Also avoid asking too many questions, even if you’re curious. Your loved one has probably been asked dozens of questions from doctors, nurses and other concerned friends, and may be tired of answering them.

Keep Up the Support

Your loved one may be in for a long journey and may not have time to keep up with friends. Make it easy on them with quick shows of support throughout their treatment. You could:

  • Help care for their kids
  • Offer to pick up groceries
  • Offer to clean their home
  • Send notes or letters of support
  • Talk about topics other than cancer
  • Text your support

Don’t let your support become a burden. Never drop by unannounced and always ask before preparing a meal or performing other tasks.

Your Partner in Support

At AdventHealth, our caring cancer teams offer comprehensive support to patients and their families. We practice whole-person care to guide each patient with support and healing in physical, emotional and spiritual health. Learn more about our cancer care services and ways we support you on your health and wellness journey.

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