What to Say to a Friend With Cancer

When a beloved friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, finding the right words can seem impossible. Do you pretend as if everything is normal? Should you adopt a somber demeanor when speaking to them? What is the best way to let them know that you’re there to support them?

Unfortunately, confusion compels many people to withdraw from a loved one with cancer. They don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything at all; leaving patients feeling isolated and alone, just when they need their friends and family the most.

Countless members of the AgingCare.com community have been on both sides of the table—as cancer patients, and as caregivers to loved ones with cancer or another serious illness. On the caregiver forum, they offer their insights on what to say to a friend or family member with cancer:

  • “Take your lead from them. If they want to talk about their disease and their feelings, be a good listener. If they want to reserve heavy-duty emotional talks for family members and very close friends and only wants to have “ordinary” conversations with more casual friends, then stay within the topics they initiate. Isolating them because you don’t know what to say isn’t good for either of you. Call them. Let them take the lead in the conversations.”
  • “Let them talk, listen to them, sympathize with them about their illness. They probably just need an ear to listen. I would also send them a card to let them know they are in your thoughts.”
  • “When someone has cancer they do not become the disease. They are the same person that they always were. Cancer is not contagious, so there is no reason to fear or avoid a friend. Just treat them the same as you did before they had cancer.”
  • “Back when I had cancer, I lost most of my friends because they didn’t know what to say or they were scared they would say the wrong thing. I just needed someone to talk to. I wound up calling my ex-mother-in-law because she would always make me laugh and laugh, and she enjoyed the calls, too. We became the best of friends.”
  • “The one thing I have learned as I’ve gotten older is that it isn’t about my feelings, it is about being there for another person. All you have to do is call, say ‘I am so sorry.’ Let them know you will be praying for them and just listen. Your friend will probably do all the talking and that is what they need now. Sometimes the only thing we can do for each other is say a prayer and listen.”
  • “The friends who cheer me up the most never talk about cancer or leukemia. They join me for lunch and talk about vacations, new babies, weddings and anything that will make me laugh. One hour away from all my cares is life-saving.”

Of course, there’s no magical message that will make a person with cancer feel completely at ease; they face a monumental battle that ultimately only they can walk. But your love and support can work wonders to fortify their strength and courage to keep fighting over the days, months and years of their disease.

What would you say to a close friend or family member who’s just been diagnosed with cancer? How would you communicate your support?

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Cindy Smith
Cindy Smith2 months ago


Tanya W
Tanya W11 months ago

Thank you

Tanya W
Tanya W11 months ago


Dina Mattas
Dina Mattas3 years ago

Thanks for great advice.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Cancer is tough and scary. I appreciate the suggestions for future reference.

Jane R.
Jane R3 years ago

These are excellent suggestions. The important thing is to be there for your friend.

Chad Anderson
Chad A3 years ago

I am going to keep this in mind-thank you

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Thanks for sharing!

Susan Brandwein
Susan B3 years ago

I agree with letting your friend with cancer set the pace. Listen and let her/him know you are ready to help. Stay in the moment, keep positive, but low key.

chris b.
chris B3 years ago

As others have said - I think you need to do for your friends as you would want them to do for you. Almost a 'do unto others' kinda thing. Difficult for all - but more for those stricken with that nasty disease.