What Not to Say to Someone with Skin Cancer

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Has someone you know, maybe a relative or friend, recently been diagnosed with skin cancer? Talking to someone with skin cancer (or any type of cancer) can be difficult. You aren’t sure what to say, you have good intentions but don’t want to say something to upset him or her, but you want to show you care. The following are 10 things not to say (with ideas on what you can say instead);


    Don’t say: “You are lucky it’s only skin cancer.”

    Skin cancer is still cancer, and cancer is serious. Don’t minimize a person’s diagnosis because you think it is a “lesser” cancer than other types. Skin cancer, especially melanoma, is very serious.

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    Instead you might say: “I am glad this type of cancer is easily treated.”


    Don’t say: “I know how you feel.”

    The exception is if you have had cancer and do know how your relative or friend is feeling. But if you haven’t had cancer, you don’t know how she feels so don’t pretend to know.


    Instead say, “I can’t imagine how you are feeling. If you want to talk, I am here.”


    Don’t say: “So-and-so had skin cancer and beat it, you can too.”

    While meant to be encouraging, you are somehow implying that if the end result isn’t good, he or she wasn’t as determined to beat the cancer as so-and-so was.


    Instead you can say, “I am thinking of you. Please let me know how I can help.”


    Don’t say: “My uncle died from skin cancer.”

    You may seem that sharing the knowledge that you know someone with the same diagnosis is a way to connect, your friend doesn’t want to hear about people who died from cancer. Worry about the future is probably paramount in their mind right now, don’t add to the concerns.


    Instead say: “I am thinking of you. Please let me know how I can help.”


    Don’t say:  “Stay positive. I hear positive thoughts can help you beat cancer.”

    Another sentiment meant to be encouraging but sending the message that if his outcome isn’t good, he didn’t think enough positive thoughts.


    Instead say: “This must be a scary time for you. Would you like to talk about it?”


    Don’t say: “You should try this treatment or that treatment.”

    Your friend or relative has a doctor who is an expert on treating cancer and has already given recommendations on what types of treatments are best. Having read about a new cancer treatment in a magazine or online doesn’t make you qualified to give medical advice. Stay away from offering advice or telling your friend about the newest alternative treatment.


    Instead say, “What treatment will you be receiving?”


    Don’t say, “If you need something, just ask.”

    Chances are, she isn’t going to ask for help. But that doesn’t mean she won’t accept help. Be specific in what you can do.


    Instead say, “You are having surgery next Wednesday? I’ll bring some dinners for your family to last a few days so you don’t need to worry about cooking. How about if I drop them off on Tuesday?”


    Don’t say: “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. You are strong.”

  • Your friend has just been diagnosed with skin cancer, she is worried and telling her not to worry isn’t going to stop her from worrying. And what if she isn’t fine? Does that mean she is weak?

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    Instead say: “I am so sorry you are going through this.”


    Don’t say: “Did you get sunburns when you were young?” or “Didn’t you use sunscreen?” or “Do you use tanning beds?”

    In other words, don’t imply that the cancer is his or her fault. When someone receives a diagnosis of cancer, a common reaction is “Why me?” or “What did I do to cause this?” You don’t need to add to those feelings.


    Instead say: “This must be a difficult time for you. Can I bring over some dinners/watch your kids/take you to lunch/etc.”


    In other words, the best way to talk to someone recently diagnosed with cancer, any type of cancer, is to let them know you care. If they want to talk, listen; if they don’t, respect their right not to talk about the cancer. Offer specific ways to help, not a vague statement about helping. Most of all, be there. Don’t shy away. If you had lunch once a month, keep it up - even if you have to bring lunch to her instead of meeting at a restaurant. Call or send a card. Be warm and loving, without feeling sorry for her.


Published On: November 24, 2013