How to talk about cancer

We experience a flood of emotions when we receive news that a friend or family member has cancer. One of the first questions that we ask ourselves is, “What do I say?

“Just like we are all individuals, types of cancer and outcomes vary, and individual responses vary,” said Linda Robinson, social worker at Karmanos Cancer Institute (KCI). “The key is to not make any assumptions and to be present to see where the person is. To acknowledge their feelings, express concern, and compassion, and most importantly to show up.”


Don’t say…

“Everything is going to be fine.” This comment comes off as invalidating and dismissive. Steer clear of any comments that ‘cheerlead.’

“I know what you’re going through is difficult.” While this comment stems from sympathy, it diminishes what the cancer patient is going through. You assume what they are going through is difficult, you aren’t in their shoes.

“Well, at least you got a good kind of cancer.” There is no ‘good’ kind of cancer.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” Cancer is an overwhelming diagnosis and it is important not to push aside strong and valid emotions that come with a cancer diagnosis.

“You should have exercised more / eaten better.” This comment places blame on the cancer patient which is the last thing a cancer patient needs.

Nothing. Some people ignore or neglect a cancer patient because they don’t feel prepared to handle the situation. Doing nothing is the worst.


Do say…

“I’m not sure what to say right now, but I want you to know I love you.” This statement gets to the heart of the matter. You might not know what to say, but you’re showing your support.

“How are you really doing?” This allows patients the chance to safely share their reality.

“We’re going to get through this together.” It is important for every patient to know they’re not alone and that they have a support system.

“You’ve got this.” This instills confidence in the patient while letting them know that they have someone who believe in them.

“You can count on me for…” Making meals. Transportation to doctor’s appointments. Picking up the kids. This is a better response than the open-ended, “Let me know if you need anything,” offer.


Remember, actions speak louder than words…

The most important thing is to be there for someone. Sit with your friend during chemo treatments or go to the hospital to be with family members during surgery. When you make a commitment, follow through.



Karmanos Cancer Institute strives to prevent, detect, and eradicate all forms of cancer while bringing courage, commitment, and compassion to every patient and their loved ones. KCI offers the following resources to nurture the well-being of those touched by cancer.

Support Groups

It is important for those affected by cancer to know they are not alone. Karmanos provides specialized support groups that focus on well-being, networking, and education. Some of these groups includes:

  • Cancer Support Group: Third Wednesday of every month from 2:00-3:30p.m. in the community room at the cancer center on McLaren Lapeer Region's campus. Call (810) 245-5309 for more information. 
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Support Group
  • Be Bold, Be Beautiful – Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center – Farmington Hills
  • Online Cancer Support Group – McLaren Flint
  • Online Cancer Support Group – McLaren Flint
  • Online Art & Music Therapy – McLaren Flint


Counseling Services

All Karmanos patients, family members, and friends have access to supportive counseling services that enhance quality of life while focusing on emotional needs as well as their medical condition.

The types of counseling provided include:

  • Psychological Counseling – mental health support for patients and families
  • Nutritional Counseling – nutritional support to ensure greater success
  • Genetic Counseling – helping patients and families understand their cancer risk and ways to reduce risk through lifestyle modification


Integrative Therapies

Karmanos offers a variety of integrative therapies to decrease stress and anxiety while improving one’s general sense of well-being. Participating with a loved one in these therapies is a gentle way to show your care and support. 

Therapies include:

  • Art therapy
  • Healing touch
  • Message therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Reiki
  • Yoga


For more information about Karmanos Cancer Institute, visit: For more information about Karmanos Cancer Instituet at McLaren Lapeer Region, visit