Talking about cancer is tricky, there's no denying that. You certainly don't want to make light of a friend's diagnosis, but focusing on the negative seems equally inappropriate, and it can be hard to find the perfect place in between.
Barbara Kantrowitz recently wrote some great tips on how to talk to a friend with cancer, so I thought I'd look at what not to say. Straight from the mouths of past and current cancer patients, here are the most absolutely rude things people said to them about their disease (plus, a few pointers on the right way to talk about it):
"Don't cry over your diagnosis, because God only gives us what we can handle,"—Yocheved Golani, author of It's MY Crisis! And I'll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge.
"So much for goody two shoes," – Angela Crawford, breast cancer survivor (who explains "I am not a big drinker and don't smoke, so this person was kindly pointing out that I still got cancer despite my healthy lifestyle.")
"You won't need radiation if you just eat asparagus,"—Carla Zambelli (who gives this advice to friends of cancer patients: "Don't minimize what is going on, but keep it positive and realistic. Sometimes all we want is a hug.")
"Oh you are so lucky you don't have to shave." —Kara Anderson
"Oh I had a friend who had that, and it wasn't a big deal. You'll be fine." –N, who is currently undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer and wishes to remain anonymous.
"Well, you're kind of small breasted, so it could be worse." –Ann Ann Pietrangelo, who actually had somebody say this to upon hearing about her mastectomy! Ann reveals some of the other outrageous and insensitive things people have said to her in a blog post for Care2: "10 Odd Things to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer."
"You shouldn't go through chemo because it's too dangerous. You should stick to vitamins and herbs instead," –Laura Carpenter, who survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma
"Since you are single who will take care of you?" —Michelle Colon-Johnson, 5 time survivor of stage 4 cancer adrenal cortical carcinoma
"Aren't you upset about losing your hair?" –Susan Reif, breast cancer survivor and author of For Family and Friends: 39 Things to Make a Cancer Patient Smile.
"Aren't you afraid it will come back?" —Alyssa Phillips, a double mone marrow transplant survivor who overcame less than 5% chance of survival. (Phillips adds that the best thing you can say is, "What can I do for you? People instinctively give what they would want, which isn't necessarily what the patient needs.")
"I hope you don't have to have surgery. I know that when my mom had surgery the cancer just spread everywhere," –Jenn Humphrey, who adds, "Instead of saying, 'Let me know if you need dinner or a ride.' Tell the person, 'I'm bringing you dinner on Sunday night or I'd like to drive you to chemo or radiation. What time can I pick you up?' Because a cancer patient doesn't want to put someone out and doesn't have the energy to make calls and seek help."
"If you have to get cancer THIS is the one to get…you are so lucky!"—Louise Sattler, thyroid cancer survivor.
"Are you going to get a second opinion at Sloan-Kettering?"–breast cancer survivor Emily, who adds, "When you say 'no,' it puts you in the position of having to defend your treatment decisions, which no cancer patient should have to do to anyone who's not directly involved in those decisions. Even worse, after my cancer was discovered to be more advanced than originally thought, the same person said to me, 'Maybe it's time to go to Sloan now?'."
"I know exactly what you're going through, I had the worst cold last month too."—Scott Rozman (who adds "this was during chemotherapy for a rare and aggressive cancer, when I couldn't even stand up on my own . . luckily I can laugh about it now.")