What NOT to Say When Consoling Someone about a Medical Diagnosis

Having gone through breast cancer myself and then having a child go through cancer, I feel like I’m extremely familiar with knowing what people should say to comfort someone going through a medical challenge. I heard many nice things from well wishers.

But here’s the thing, it’s more about what not to say. 

I watched as people who talked to me tried to put a positive spin on my situation. They tried to find something to say to enlighten me. They were awkward and I love them for it, but sometimes, accidentally what they said made me feel worse.

Here is a list of what I can tell you were the wrong things to say to me when I was knee deep in an awful medical situation:

“Call me if you need me.” 
I would never call people. I am deep in my misery trying to take care of myself and my family. And I don’t really know what you’re offering. 
A better thing to say would be… 
“I know it’s going to be hard to get everything done. I’m (insert helpful offer here)
a) going to the grocery store
b) running the dogs at the dog park
c) dropping off dry cleaning
d) available to help clean your house for a couple hours and would love to drop by to help.”

“I’m sure he will be fine.” 
Optimistic? Yes. Comforting? No. The only thing that I truly knew when my son was diagnosed with cancer was that we DIDN’T know what the outcome would be. Saying something like this belittles me for the worry I am going through, ignoring my feelings and making me sublimate my true feelings to “agree” with the statement. 
A better thing to say would be… 
“I hope everything goes the best it possibly can,”
which allows for any scenario ahead.

“You got this!” 
Really? Because I’m scared sh!tless and now I don’t feel like I can be honest with you. Now you’ve put me in a position of having to put on a happy face for the world. 
A better thing to say would be… 
“You’re such a strong person. What a test to have to go through.”

“My (insert family member or friend) went through this and ran a marathon last year!” 
While on the surface, this sounds supportive, saying this as encouragement is like comparing any random person to any other random person. This has absolutely nothing to do with my situation, my son, my health, my doctors, my world. 
A better thing to say would be…
“I’ve had friends who’ve dealt with medical challenges and they’ve come out stronger afterwards. I’m hoping that happens for you.”

“God only gives people what they can handle. You must be pretty strong!”
 This is an odd, backwards way to complement someone that didn’t work for me, kind of made me have to laugh at the horrible thing happening. If you are religious, and want to reference God, I suggest finding a comforting message from the Bible like…
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

There are many more, but I hope you’ve gotten my point. Trying to say something to put a positive spin on a bad situation just doesn’t work. 

Of course your troubled friends will forgive you if you say something that doesn’t comfort them because they know you’re trying to help.

But finding a way to be supportive without making challenged friends “put on a happy face” will be one of the best gifts you can give them.

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