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3 Things you should never tell someone with cancer

Jennifer Chidester

Half of all men and one third of all women in the U.S. will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Odds are, you know a survivor or someone living with cancer.

Jennifer Chidester - Surviving cancer

The next time you speak with them, consider this advice to avoid emotional land mines — and at the very least, spare some awkward moments.


Stories about people you knew who died from cancer

We all have a need to relate out of sympathy and I’m pretty sure I’ve done this one myself… but now I know better. When you’re consumed with your cancer battle and are working so hard to push aside fears and be optimistic, there’s nothing like hearing about how cancer claimed a life to drag you back down. Before you share the story about your old friend who lost her battle to breast cancer and tragically left behind two little kids — especially to a woman with cancer who also has little ones — please think twice. I can’t tell you how many heart-wrenching stories I’ve heard since I was diagnosed. For the rest of my life I’ll never be able to shake them.


Your mom, brother, cousin, colleague had that, too

I beg you to only tell this story if there’s a happy ending. When I told people I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I found out quickly that, unfortunately, I knew several people who knew other people that went through the same battle. While I loved hearing the success stories, the ones that terrified me the most were the ones that abruptly ended after, “My mom/brother/cousin/colleague had that, too.” I always wanted to ask, “And then what?” but I knew I wouldn’t always be prepared for the answer. Please don’t leave us hanging to imagine the worst.


“I hear your hair will grow back… (insert your worst hair fear)”

Don’t get me wrong, for as long as I live I will thank God every day that I have hair on my head — whenever that ultimately happens — no matter what the color or texture. After losing my waist-length hair, I found out the hard way that you truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Still, it’s not always comforting to hear that it will grow back kinky, curly, frizzy, bright orange — or whatever it is you might have heard from someone who knew someone.

What to tell us instead

Tell us inspiring stories of people who beat their cancer odds and lived to tell about it. There are millions of people now living despite a cancer diagnosis and if you know one of them, we’d much rather hear about their triumphs. If you know someone who had the same type of cancer and made it through, tell us how awesome their life is now. Last but not least, instead of passing on anecdotes about people you knew whose hair grew back with a “chemo curl,” consider offering a little sympathy for the good-hair-days gone and tell us that you’re sure we’ll look like our old selves in no time.

More about surviving cancer

Surviving cancer: Become your best healthcare advocate
Parenting when dad has cancer
Surviving cancer: The C word

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