What to say to a newly diagnosed cancer patient

“So, the doctor told me I have breast cancer. I just wanted to let you know. I’m doing fine right now, but I have some decisions to make regarding my treatment options. I’ll keep you posted.”

This may be a typical email sent to family and friends after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. Sending emails seems more practical at this point. With so many friends and family to update, unless a general meeting is called at the local hotel conference room, they would have to repeat these words over and over again. It’s hard enough to say them once.

Here come the well meaning responses.

“Why didn’t you tell me you might have cancer? I have something that cures cancer.”

“Whatever you do, don’t let them cut you. Once they cut you, it spreads.”

“You’re not actually considering chemo are you? The cure is worse than the disease.”

“Go 100% natural. Don’t listen to the doctors. There’s no money in curing you.”

And the list goes on.

You care about them and you’re worried. So are they. Actually, they’re devastated. Their oncologists gave them options to consider. There’s radical mastectomy or lumpectomy with radiation. There’s chemo or hormone therapy. In some cases, the Oncologist will leave the final decision to them after providing the pros and cons of each treatment option. They have to make this life changing decision without being qualified to do so. It doesn’t seem right, but there it is.

Realize that there is a significant difference between theorizing about what you would do if you were ever diagnosed with cancer and actually facing your own mortality.  Every newly diagnosed breast cancer patient needs to do the research and make decisions based on what feels right for them.

Be supportive and caring. Offer help with any non-medical challenges like laundry, shopping, gardening, or cooking. With all the treatment options available, there’s little time for anything else in their lives right now except research.  Be there through the fear, denial, and depression. Be as supportive as you can even if you don’t like what they’re saying. The best thing to do for the newly diagnosed is to help them find a support group.

Breast cancer is an emotional roller coaster ride that can only be fully understood by another breast cancer survivor. Talking to other survivors will enable them to make a more informed decision and guide them through the emotional ups and downs.

It’s a wild scary ride not only for the cancer patient but also for the ones who love them.  Fasten your seatbelts and hang on tight.  Sometimes the best advice to give is no advice at all. Be a sounding board for all they’ve learned and encourage them to make the best decision they can based on facts and statistics. Lastly, don’t forget to make them laugh – the best medicine of all.

Salli Camphouse is a breast cancer survivor who blogs at Breast Cancer – Fight for Your Life.

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  • Chrysalis Angel

    Excellent post.

    It also does no good, and possibly even harm to them, to suggest that they possibly caused their own cancer.  “I told you eating french fries was bad for your health.”  “You shouldn’t be eating chocolate, sugar fuels the cancer.”  The list goes on.

    Best to be supportive, as you say in this post.  Offer to help them with the burdens of every day life, and keep your opinions to yourself, as they choose what is best for them.

  • http://www.bronsonharrington.com/ Gnuboss

    Absolutely – the best thing you can do for a newly diagnosed cancer patient is be there for them, without judgement, solutions or advice…. just be friend to lean on and a shoulder to cry on.

  • http://twitter.com/cancer2gether Facing Cancer


    In my opinion, it’s really best to do something rather than simply
    say something. Send flowers with a note you’re thinking of them. Invite them
    out for a cup of tea. Bring them a blanket you thought would keep them cosy. Send
    a card in the mail.

    Yes, wording is huge and it’s absolutely key not to impose
    your opinions onto them. But I just think that beyond saying, “I’m so sorry.” A
    little gesture can often be the perfect way to express that you care, you will
    be there, and that’s never going to change.

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