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Talking to Cancer Patients During the Holidays


As a cancer patient, making it through the holidays can feel like an incredible feat. Large family gatherings and holiday dinners can foster a nerve-wracking feeling for some cancer patients.


Many people with a family member who is going through treatment for a life-threatening illness are unsure how to approach them during the holidays.


In an attempt to be supportive, sympathetic or encouraging there are many things family and friends say that can have an opposite effect on a cancer patient. Sometimes comments come off as awkward or impolite that could ultimately shut down all communication.


Things You Should Not Say


UW Carbone Cancer Center offers these examples of things you should not say to a cancer patient during the holidays:

  • "Everything will be okay."
  • "I know how you feel."
  • "I have a friend who survived cancer."


Things You Should Say


Instead you should say things like:

  • "Is there anything I can help you with?"
  • "I'm here for you.”
  • "Would you like to talk about it?"
  • Or simply "Happy Holidays – it is so nice to see you!"

People with serious illnesses would not expect you to know everything about their new diagnosis. When someone tells you about a diagnosis you don’t know much about you could say, "I don't know anything about what that diagnosis means. Would you mind telling me about it?"


Everyone should be conscious that the holidays may be a tense time for cancer patients. Remember not to assume a cancer patient wants or needs to discuss their diagnosis and treatment.


Holidays are a time to enjoy and reconnect with family and friends which is particularly important for someone who is ill. 


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Date Published: 12/19/2014

News tag(s):  cancer

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