April 10, 2021

What to say (and not to say) to someone who is sick

As someone who watched their best friend go through cancer, here are some tips on what to say (and not to say) to someone who is sick. Obviously it depends on the person but this is just based my own personal experience watching a 30 year old female to through her biggest struggle in life.

Things you should avoid saying:

  1. What can I do to help?” This puts the burden of answering the question back on them. They don’t want to feel vulnerable. It is ok to ask this question if you just rephrase it. Do you need help with ***?” Or just do something for them. Sometimes it can be something as mundane as cleaning their house or filling up their car with gas.

  2. I will pray for you OR My thoughts and prayers are with you OR We’ll keep you in our thoughts” Great. Thanks. You and every other person who has come and visited me has said this. How about thoughts, prayers and a cheesecake or something next time. I will say though that if it is your 86 year old, very religious, rosary 3 times a day, grandmother they will probably really appreciate this one, especially if they know you are not super religious.

  3. Have you tried the milk thistle I sent you?” Once people start hearing you have cancer they like to prepare grandmas old cure-all receipe for you or tell you about some folklore medical tincture that they heard about. If you really believe something will help, give me the milk thistle, maybe some articles about it and I’ll decide if I want to take it or not.

  4. Hey man, everything will be fine OR everything will be ok” You are not a medical doctor. Your gut feeling is not compatabile with the MRI I just had.

  5. Looks like someone has a boo-boo OR How are we doing today young lady OR my my you look strong today” Dont infantilize adults

Things to say:

  1. Hey I did this for you OR hey I’m gonna go do this for you, is that OK?”.
  2. I’ll send you some stuff, dont bother writing thank you or sending me a message”.
  3. I’m gonna have food delievered to your house on friday”.
  4. I should get going” If I want you to stay I will tell you.
  5. I’m just gonna come and see you. We don’t have to talk”.

I adapted this from https://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/fashion/what-to-say-to-someone-whos-sick-this-life.html and my own experiences


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