Do’s and Don’ts – Talking to a Cancer Patient

What do you say when a friend or someone that you love has been diagnosed with cancer? You want to be there for them and comfort them but you also want to make sure that you’re not saying something that’s going to upset them or make them feel even worse than they already do. Well, I am here to help.  How do I know? Welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor.  My name is Jelena and at age 34 I was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. Throughout my time as a survivor, I have immersed myself in the cancer world and made tons of friends within that along the way. Throughout our journeys, we vent or share some of the best and worst things to say to a cancer patient, so I’ve compiled a lot of those together for this video. So let’s get started with the good stuff, things to say.

Things to say to a cancer patient

I love you.

When it’s a loved one that’s telling you their diagnosis it’s always good to start out with and “I love you” as a comforting reminder that they aren’t alone in this. 

I’m sorry that you have to go through this.

This acknowledges that you realize that what they’re going through is very difficult. I’m here to listen.  Telling them that you’re there to listen shows them that you care for them and that the focus of the conversation will stay on them and not on you when they need to talk. A person goes through tons of emotions when they’re diagnosed with cancer and those emotions can change from one minute to the next so letting them know that you’re there to listen gives them another person that they know that they can turn to if they need to talk.  

Can I bring you dinner tomorrow?

Or any specific thing that you want to do to help. It doesn’t have to be tomorrow but give them an exact date. If that date doesn’t work then the patient can offer an alternative right there for you. And it doesn’t have to be dinner either it could be groceries, snacks, tea, coffee, offering to walk the dog, or babysit. They’re overwhelmed with so many things that it’s easier for them to just say yes or offer a quick alternative rather than leaving an open-ended date for something.

Would you like for me to take you to any of your appointments?

Even if they have a significant other, that other person may not be able to take time off of work to accompany them to every single appointment because there’s going to be a ton of them.  A lot of information is covered in those appointments so it’s always helpful to have a second person there to help with remembering all that information. Sometimes these appointments can get emotional too and it’s nice to just have another person there with you that can help to comfort you that’s not your doctor.

I’m thinking about you.

This one is good once treatment is started just to let them know that you haven’t forgotten about them.

Would you like to come to. . .?

Don’t assume that they aren’t up for anything social. Keep inviting them to things and let them determine whether or not they feel well enough or have enough energy to accompany you to those things. Not inviting them makes them feel like you’re abandoning them and that you’re not there for them at a time when they really need friends and support.


Now for some things not to say.  Don’t fret if you’ve sent any of them because  I’m guilty of having said a few of them as well.  A lot of these, they’re said with the best of intentions but I’ll explain why they may not be the best things to say to a patient.  

What NOT to say to a cancer patient

At least.

It minimizes what they’re experiencing and feeling. You can almost always find someone that has it worse but that doesn’t mean that others that are struggling aren’t having a hard time too.

Let me know if you need anything.

They are so overwhelmed that they have no idea what they need and once they do realize that they’re in need of some stuff they don’t have the time or the energy to try to figure out who could do what for them. Take a note from my “What to say” section and tell them that you’re bringing them dinner on Thursday.  

You’ll be fine.

You have no idea what their prognosis is and even if you do every person is different and you have no idea which side of the statistics that this person is going to fall into.  

Don’t worry. It’s no big deal. It could be worse.

A cancer diagnosis is a big deal, even if it’s caught early and can easily be treated. They’ll have this cloud of cancer following them around for the rest of their lives. Saying one of these is similar to giving the “At least…” line, which minimizes what they’re feeling and can make them feel even worse for having any kind of emotion about this.  

My aunt’s neighbor had the same kind of cancer and they died.

This obviously doesn’t help at all other than to increase their anxiety about their diagnosis. Even if you’re bringing this up to try and compare treatment plans it’s not helpful. Our minds already think the worst when we hear that we’ve been diagnosed with cancer we don’t need to hear about other people that have died from it. Plus, you’re stealing the conversation by focusing everything on you and your story. 

Everything happens for a reason.

A cancer patient doesn’t want to hear that maybe there’s some dark,  behind the scenes reason that they got cancer. Just say, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” and move on.

Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and be dead.

You don’t worry every day that the bus is going to hit you and you’re going to die. You don’t have nightmares about the bus hitting you and killing you.  And you don’t go to bed worrying about whether or not that bus is chasing you. Cancer is always looming over our heads.  The bus is not.

It’s the “good” kind of cancer.

There is no good kind of cancer.  They all suck in their own way.  Saying that they have the “good” kind is again like saying, “at least,” don’t say it.

You should. . .

Are you an oncologist? Then you have no business giving them any kind of medical advice. Don’t tell them they should be doing this or they should be feeling this. We’re all different. We all handle treatment a little different, recover different, our emotions are different, so it’s up to us to figure out what’s best for ourselves. Unless we’ve asked you for advice, please don’t give any.  

They lost their battle.

When a person dies from cancer, please do not say that they lost their battle. They tried their hardest to beat their cancer and saying that they lost implies that they’re a loser and they gave up.  If it was solely up to a person’s will there would be a heck of a lot more people that would be beating cancer but that’s not how it works. Also, the cancer dies with the person so it’s a tie at best.

List of what to say and what to say to a cancer patient

This is by no means an exhaustive list but hopefully, it gives you a good starting point of some good things to say and to avoid saying. Want a printable version of this list? Click here to download this handy infographic to use and to share.  

Let me know down in the comments below if there are any really important ones that I’ve missed.  Want to hear what it’s like to be on the receiving end of getting a cancer diagnosis?  Click here to read about my diagnosis story. Thanks for watching.

Click here to download a printable version of Talking to a Cancer Patient.

*This video was originally published on January 8, 2021

Gift Ideas For Someone Going Through Radiation Therapy

Today I’m going to be sharing with you some great gift ideas for giving to somebody that’s going through radiation therapy. If you’re new here to this channel welcome to Life as a Cancer Survivor. My name is Jelena and I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Rectal Cancer in May of 2016. Radiation and oral chemotherapy were the first steps in my treatment, and I’ve talked about going through each of those in my last two videos. If you happen to have missed those, I’ll have the link above here to the playlist where you can find both of those videos. I’ll talk in future videos about great gift ideas both for someone that’s going into surgery and is gonna have a hospital stay and also for somebody that’s going through an ileostomy reversal so make sure you’re subscribed to my channel so you’ll get notifications when those videos are live. And now for the fun stuff, the gifts!

The first really helpful gifts that I got were shorts and tank tops. Theshorts were especially great because I could easily pull them down to my knees for treatment and then quickly get them back up when it was done. They weren’t super tight-fitting as you can see so they easily slid up and down and they weren’t even tight like in the butt or anything so when you start getting burned they’re not aggravated by tight pants. And were quickly and easily removed when that radiation diarrhea starts setting in. I went through treatment in the summer so the tank tops are nice and flowy and comfortable and they’re perfect for going from radiation treatment straight to bed for those midday naps. For cooler weather, pants like these are similar to the shorts in that the waistband, nice and comfy, not too tight, and they easily transition from radiation to nap.

For the rest of the gift ideas, and actually, for those pants, I’ve got links to all of them in the description below so check that out. I think I’m also supposed to tell you that those links lead you to my Amazon affiliate account so if you click on those and you happen to buy anything I will get a small commission off of the purchase price of those items. I’ll let you know in the description below if it’s a product that I used and highly recommended, a friend used and highly recommended, or I just got the recommendation of an item and so I chose one based on what they recommended. Now back to what you’re really here for, the gift ideas!

I got a care package about halfway through my treatment from a group of high school Box full of giftsfriends and in that I got this cute little USB Drive loaded with music. The music was separated into five different playlists: rest, rollick, rumble, remember, and relax. It was a good combination of music to pump me up on my rides to and from radiation every day and also to help me calm and relax and just stop thinking about cancer for a little bit. And since it was music picked out by my friends it was a lot of stuff that I really liked but didn’t have so it mixed up my playlists.

There was also this hilarious book that I should have read on those days when I was too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything but I mistakenly waited and took it with me while I was there for surgery for my hospital stay and I’ll tell you why it was not a good idea just for this kind of book for surgery time, at least for me in that video about gift ideas for surgery.

There were also animal crackers in there which were nice easy to grab snacks that were also really gentle on the tummy when it was in turmoil from radiation. Then last but certainly not least was a gift card that was good to use at multiple restaurants around town. That was really handy once the hand and foot syndrome started kicking in and it’s painful just stand on your feet let alone try to cook. Plus your caregiver is getting exhausted by then as well.

To help soothe the area that’s being radiated before burns really start setting in, fellow survivor friends recommended either Aquaphor or calendula cream. One friend suggested unscented lotion, another scented lotion, either one lotion is an excellent gift idea. When someone goes through radiation treatments their white blood cell counts drop which means you’re more susceptible to getting sick and if you do get sick it’s much worse than if a normal healthy person gets ill. That means lots of handwashing which dries your hands out really bad, so that lotion is very helpful to help soothe those dry hands. And if the person is taking the oral chemotherapy Xeloda, that means they’re more susceptible to getting Hand-Foot Syndrome, so lathering your hands and the bottoms of your feet and lotion can help delay the onset of Hand-Foot Syndrome.

Next up is a bidet. There are cheap versions that are just a nozzle or a sprayer that you attach to your toilet. Those are about twenty or thirty dollars. Or if you’re a really generous friend, you can give them a bidet that’s got a heated seat and even a butt dryer for $300+. This is not just a short-term gift either. If they’re going through pelvic radiation they’re gonna get burns. Any rubbing is gonna irritate them and the water from the bidet feels much better on the tush. If they’re going to have a temporary ileostomy that bidet will be a lifesaver after they go through their reversal surgery and I’ll talk about that in a future video.

Another great gift is maid service. As radiation treatment wears on the fatigue starts to set in more and more and cleaning the house is kind of put on the back burner. Having a maid service gives that person a nice clean house to look at while they’re just laying around the couch because they’re too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything. Plus their immune system is gonna be taking a hit during treatment so at a minimum having a clean bathroom is really gonna be helpful for them.

Gift certificates for a manicure or a pedicure are great too. It’s a greatway to get pampered for a little bit and the results can be seen for days maybe even weeks after. Even when you haven’t showered in days and you feel like a disaster, having some nicely polished nails can help be a little bright spot in someone’s day. Or if nails aren’t really their thing other fellow survivors also suggested scalp massage or reflexology session. The reflexology was recommended by a fellow survivor to help with calming your nerves and anxiety which you’re gonna have some if you have cancer.

I got many other great suggestions from fellow survivors too. Comfort items like fuzzy socks which I got these fuzzy socks for surgery or a blanket. Things to do when they’re too tired or hurt too much to get up and do anything like puzzles or good books. And to help with that radiation-induced diarrhea a box of Imodium. Just a card tora let them know that you’re thinking of them too is always appreciated.

Of course, each person is different but these are some of the top gifts that any person going through radiation would love to receive. I hope that this list has helped you figure out a great gift to give. Next week’s video is gonna be a true cancer vlog where I take you along with me on the adventures of getting a CT scan because it’s that time of year so I want to bring you along with me for it. If you need to catch up on any of my earlier videos the playlist for the beginning of my cancer journey is right up here. My face is down here for you to click on and subscribe. So, I want to thank you guys for watching and I’ll see you next week.

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🎁Links to the gift ideas I suggest in this post:

👖Pants that I have and highly recommend:

💾Minion USB drive that I got:

📘Book I received that was hilarious:

🐪Animal crackers I received:

👍Aquaphor cream highly recommended by a fellow survivor:

👍Calendula cream was highly recommended by a fellow survivor, this one is highly rated: 🚽Budget version of a bidet that is highly rated & a best seller: 🚽Fancy bidet that I’ve used at a doctor’s office and was FANTASTIC:

🦶Fuzzy slipper socks I have and highly recommend:

💙Cozy blanket I have and highly recommend: 💊Last but not least, Imodium! I’ve used the brand name stuff here:, but usually buy a generic brand at the grocery store.

*This video was originally published on December 11, 2019