Finding the right words: What to say to loved ones battling cancer

Finding the Right Words

What to say to loved ones battling cancer

In life’s journey, few things shake us to the core like the news of a loved one facing cancer. In such moments, finding the right words to offer comfort becomes an act of profound importance and immense compassion.

But how do we navigate these delicate conversations with authenticity and empathy?



Walking in their shoes

Imagine for a moment the whirlwind of emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis: fear, anger, disbelief, and perhaps a glimmer of hope amidst the chaos. Dr. Thea Gallagher, a seasoned psychologist, urges us to step into their world, acknowledging the raw intensity of their experience.

Before uttering a word, take a moment to absorb the weight of the news and connect with your own emotions.


Silence speaks volumes:
The power of listening

In a world filled with noise, sometimes the most profound moments are shared in silence. Dr. Gallagher reminds us that the power of presence and active listening surpasses the need for eloquent words. Resist the temptation to fill the void with empty platitudes.

Instead, offer a genuine, “I’m here for you”, and let them guide the conversation at their own pace.


Banishing judgment and stigma

Cancer knows no bounds, respects no barriers, and assigns no blame. It is not a consequence of personal fault or a testament to one’s character. Dr. Gallagher cautions against the insidious nature of judgment and stigma, urging us to suspend our biases and embrace empathy without reservation.

Let compassion be your guiding light, illuminating the path toward understanding and acceptance.


Tangible acts of kindness

Amidst the storm of emotions, practical gestures of support can serve as beacons of hope and solace. Rather than vague offers, extend specific acts of kindness tailored to their needs. Whether it’s running errands, preparing meals, or simply being a compassionate companion, your actions speak volumes of your unwavering support.


Nurturing your own well-being

As you navigate the tumultuous waters of supporting a loved one through cancer, don’t forget to tend to your own emotional well-being. Allow yourself to feel the spectrum of emotions that arise, seek solace in community and self-care practices, and remember that it’s okay not to have all the answers.


Sustaining the connection:
A lifeline of love

In the aftermath of the initial shock, continue to show up for your loved one with unwavering presence and compassion. Stay connected through heartfelt messages, thoughtful gestures, and acts of kindness. Your steadfast support is a beacon of hope amidst the storm, reminding them they are never alone in their journey.


In the sacred space between words and silence, empathy and action, we find the true essence of compassion. Let us stand together, hand in hand, as beacons of light and love for those navigating the turbulent waters of cancer.

Together, we can offer comfort, solace, and unwavering support, illuminating the path toward healing and hope.

If you or someone you know is impacted by cancer, remember that you are not alone. Seek support from trusted resources and compassionate communities to navigate this journey with strength and resilience.


Dr. Thea Gallagher
Clinical Psychologist
Associate Professor NYU Langone Health Hospital

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