Health Check: Don't say this to cancer patients

In July, Ali Cox found a lump in her breast while on vacation.

"Very quickly I was diagnosed and got on, what I call, the train,” Cox said. “The cancer train."

While Cox has had tremendous support from friends and family, she also has dealt with comments she didn't find helpful.

"I did have someone who told me that I needed to eat blueberries and that would solve all my problems," Cox said.

Some of the comments weighed heavy on her heart.

"I did have a stranger approach me and asked if I was fighting cancer and I said ‘Yes’,” Cox remembered. “He actually kissed me on the cheek and he said I hope you have better luck than my wife did.”

Nurse navigator Kara Lamb has a lot of patients at the Alan B. Pearson Cancer Center who have a hard time with unsolicited support.

"You just need to have faith, or strong faith. I know that perturbs some of my patients."

Another common question cancer patients hear and one you should never ask is, "Are you a smoker?"

This is like asking, "Did you cause your cancer?"

While it’s nice to offer help, don’t say, "If there's anything I can do, just let me know." That places the burden on the patient. Instead, be specific. Offer to cook dinner next week, walk the dog, watch the kids or go grocery shopping.

Also don’t say, "I know what you're going through."

"Even if you are a cancer survivor, every cancer is treated a little bit differently,” Lamb explained. “Even among breast cancer -- which is my primary patient population I follow -- you can have a room of 5 or 10 women who all have similar diagnoses but each of them have a different experience."

"Instead of sharing your story, or putting your information on to that person to shoulder, maybe just a hug and a you look great. That’s all we really need," Cox said.

Words like that -- are music to a cancer patient's ears.

“I try to tell myself all the time is... there are very few people who go out of their way to hurt someone else,” Cox said. “Most people have great intentions.”

According to Barbara Andersen, a researcher and professor of psychology, two of the best things to say to someone with cancer are: “I’m sorry you’re ill” and “I’m thinking of you.”

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