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Choosing the Right Words: What Not to Say to Cancer Patients and How to Offer Support

Supporting cancer patients through their journey requires compassion and thoughtful communication. We understand the importance of choosing our words wisely. In this blog, we’ll discuss what not to say to cancer patients and provide alternative ways to offer support. With our dedicated care team, we strive to cure the fear of cancer first.

  • Avoid Saying: “Just stay positive! You’ll be fine!”
    Why: While positivity is essential, cancer is complex, and simple reassurances may feel dismissive. Patients need empathy and understanding rather than oversimplification.
    Instead, say: “How are you feeling today? I am here to help you make this journey a positive experience for you”.
    Reasoning: Show genuine concern and offer an opportunity for them to share their emotions openly.
  • Avoid Saying: “I know exactly how you feel.”
    Why: Each person’s cancer journey is unique, and assuming complete understanding can undermine their individual experiences and emotions.
    Instead, Say: “It is so difficult to imagine how challenging this must be for you. Please know that I’m here to support you in any way I can.”
    Reasoning: Acknowledge the complexity of their experience while emphasizing your willingness to provide support and empathy.
  • Avoid Saying: “Have you tried any other ways to help you?”
    Why: While it’s beneficial to consider alternative & complementary wellness practices, suggesting specific unconventional approaches might not align with their current treatment plan and could cause confusion or uncertainty.
    Instead, Say: “Some cancer patients find comfort and support in various wellness practices like yoga, meditation, or art therapy. If you’re interested, we can explore these options together and see if they resonate with you.”
    Reasoning: Acknowledge the potential benefits of different wellness practices without imposing or conflicting with their medical treatment. Offer to explore these options collaboratively, allowing the patient to decide if they find them beneficial.
  • Avoid Saying: “Everything happens for a reason.”
    Why: Attributing a reason to their cancer diagnosis can be hurtful and oversimplifies the complexity of the disease.
    Instead, Say: “Instead of wasting time on questions for which there are no answers, let us focus on what we should be doing now”
    Reasoning: Express unconditional support, emphasizing that you are there for them, regardless of the circumstances.
  • Avoid Saying: “You should be grateful it’s not worse.”
    Why: Comparing their situation to others’ experiences diminishes the significance of their own struggles.
    Instead, Say: “Your feelings are valid. I’m here to support you through both the ups and downs.”
    Reasoning: Validate their emotions and emphasize your commitment to supporting them through every aspect of their journey.
  • Avoid Saying: “I knew someone who had the same cancer and didn’t make it.”
    Why: Sharing negative outcomes can instill fear and anxiety in patients, hindering their ability to maintain a positive mindset.
    Instead, Say: “I know of people who have overcome similar changes. Can I share their stories with you so that you can be inspired to succeed?”
    Reasoning: Offer stories of hope and resilience that inspire without instilling unnecessary fear.
  • Avoid Saying: “You should try eating this or that.”
    Why: Unsolicited dietary advice can be overwhelming and may not align with their unique treatment plan.
    Instead, Say: “Proper nutrition is important during cancer treatment. Can I share the correct guidelines to help you on this?”
    Reasoning: Provide support by directing them to professional sources for personalized nutrition advice.

Remember that every patient is unique, and one formula will not fit all. Age, education, social status, faith are all important to be kept in mind

By being mindful of our words, we can create a supportive environment for cancer patients. At MGM Cancer Institute, our dedicated team of oncologists, psychotherapists, nurses, paramedics, and physiotherapists is committed to providing exceptional care. Let us remember to choose empathy and understanding when communicating with cancer patients. Together, we can create a space where fear is conquered, and hope and strength thrive.

Learn more about our comprehensive cancer care services and schedule an appointment with our exceptional team by calling us at +91 44 4251 5151.  Join us in making a difference in the lives of cancer patients, Together, let’s provide the support and understanding that cancer patients need on their journey towards healing and recovery.

Remember, the power of words can shape the emotional well-being of cancer patients. Let’s choose our words with empathy and compassion, offering unwavering support to those who need it most.


 Written by,

Dr MA Raja
Senior Consultant, Medical Oncology
Director, Oncology Services
Chairman, Medical Advisory Board


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