My Child Has A Tumor: 4 Things NOT To Say To Me


A few months ago, my son was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. I’m not going to go into the details of where it is, what it is, or how rare it is. I will tell you however, that he is doing great and we have every reason to remain calm, focused and positive. Needless to say, when your child has a serious illness, your entire world turns upside down. Breaking the news to your family and friends is difficult. But, even more difficult is hearing some of the responses. While some reactions are exactly what you want and what you need to hear, others are exactly the wrong words to say. So, I’m going to throw you a bone and give you a heads up so you know what NOT to say to someone if they just found out their child has a serious illness or disease…

1. “I Can’t Imagine What You Must Be Going Through.” I’ll tell you why I hate this statement: you are now putting the burden on me to comfort YOU. Now I must respond to you by saying things like, “Yes, it’s truly hard, but we are going to get through this,” or “Yes, I never thought this could happen to us, and we were in shock at first, but now we are in a better place.” The fact of the matter is you’re probably right that you can’t imagine what we are going through and if that’s the case, please don’t make me feel worse. You are basically saying to me that what we are going through is so horrible and so awful that you can’t possibly imagine it. Not exactly the pick me up I was hoping for.

2. “You Are Handling This So Well…You Are So Strong.” I am not a super hero. I’m a mom, doing what every other mom would do – absolutely anything and everything to make my child better. When people tell me I’m strong, I get the feeling they expected me to shrivel up into a ball and endlessly cry. Of course I WANT to do that. Who wouldn’t? But, I can’t. And you couldn’t either. This is my kid who needs me. So, I’m going to put a smile on my face and be strong for him, because that’s what a mom does. I realize we all have choices to make in terms of how we are going to handle a crisis or challenge. But, I’m willing to bet that 99% of moms are going to choose to be a strong model for their children.

3. “What Can I Do To Help?” I LOVE that you want to help, I really do. But, please don’t ask me what you can do because it is extremely hard for me to ask my friends and family for help. You already know I need the help: I’ve got two other kids, a dog, laundry, and so on. Except I’m not going to feel comfortable giving you a list of groceries to buy, meals to prepare, and telling you when to carpool my kids. Instead of putting me in the position of dictating to you what I need, please just do whatever you think might help me out. I had one friend who did not ask, but simply delivered to our door a bunch of frozen meals, toys for my son, as well as the perfect items for stressed out parents: sleepy-time tea, candy, a plant, and a heartfelt card basically saying “I’m with you on this.” One of my other friends knew my husband would need the help at home while my son and I were out of town at another hospital for medical treatments, so she set up a meal train online. She emailed the link to a bunch of local friends and neighbors and voila, my husband and other two boys will now have meals delivered a few nights a week. And the meal train will continue on the days my son has treatments when we are back home. We are truly grateful for the help, and even more grateful that we didn’t have to ask for it.

4. “He Will Be Fine.” This one rubs me the wrong way, even though it shouldn’t. I want you to be positive and reassuring and that’s just what that statement is doing. And, we too are positive and know he will be fine. And yet, you are not his doctor, and you don’t know the details of his illness and the tough decisions we’ve had to make along the way. He WILL be fine, but for you to say it as if it’s so obvious and simple – as if he’s recovering from strep throat – well, we’re in a different category over here so please don’t pretend we’re not.

The real hero, the real warrior in all of this is my son. And yet, it amazes me how many people don’t ask how he is doing or feeling. Remember, if you really want to support me, show the support to my son too. Even though he’s the most resilient, brave, and laid-back kid with a tumor that you could ever know, he still needs the love too.

About the writer

Emily Cappo is a writer and blogger at Oh Boy Mom. She is a mom to three boys, ages 9, 13, and 15 and one girl dog. Emily is also an iced tea junkie and a tennis-playing fanatic whose game never improves.

From Around the Web


Teresa 2 years ago

I’ve never been through what you are going through but see similarities in other situations (e.g.when my dad died I spent a lot of time comforting my friend and became resentful of it). Another one to add is when people come for a visit and stay for a long time, preventing you from sometimes your only opportunity to get things done or …SLEEP. And you have to cook etc. for them! It’s like what I tell people what to do when someone has a baby: bring food, do the dishes without asking, and DON’T STAY LONG. I obviously don’t know you, but I’m with you, as much as a well-meaning stranger can be.

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Hillary 2 years ago

Thank you, Emily!

Hillary Marotta 2 years ago

Also agree. I think the whole "I can't imagine how you're feeling" came from the place of NOT trying to sound like a jerk and say something ridiculous like "I understand" or "I know how you feel." So many of us do mean really well – we just don't have the right words. What can we say to make you feel loved and comforted?

Cyndi 2 years ago

Eh…I guess people don’t know what to say, so they’re really good at flubbing it all up in an effort to cover the fact that they have NO IDEA what to do.
I think I’ve even been guilty of saying “if you need help, let me know” because I really didn’t know. :\
However, now that I’ve seen this list, there’s a special friend who’s trying to adopt a little guy but his immune system is shot. You gave me a wonderful idea: to order her pizza or give her a meal one night. Thank you for sharing this.

Heather 2 years ago

I responded to your blog above, and I have been thinking about you and your family since then.
I want to compliment you on bringing up such a difficult topic, and one that touched many nerves and needs to be discussed. I am also extremely impressed at the grace with which you handled the differing opinions that were posted.
Also, no matter how you are feeling at the moment, I do believe that you are amazingly strong. Holding together emotions when you have to, but breaking down when you can and must is a strength. You are right, you have to be strong as a mother, and maybe every woman has the potential to be as strong under the circumstances. But please be sure to give yourself credit for all that you are getting through, with any sanity intact.

Jessica 2 years ago

These lists always either say “don’t stop talking to me” or have a list that makes me feel like you don’t want me to talk to you. I have separate issues that bring forth comments I don’t like, but you know what? I see it for what it is….someone with good intentions.

Suzanne Daly 2 years ago

Totally agree with you, Sarah.

Emily 2 years ago

Yes, of course the intent is good and saying or doing nothing would be even worse. For me, what has been most helpful are the friends who consistently check in letting me know they care. The simple gestures help a lot too – a card, a toy for my son, chocolate for me — and let me know the person is still there for me and thinking of us.

Emily 2 years ago

Yes I know people mean well and I too have said moronic things which is why I wanted to write this post. I’ve learned a lot about what is comforting and for me, it’s been the simple gestures and consistent caring thoughts.

Sarah Kimmel Cenedella 2 years ago

I get it, but find these "what not to say" blogs useless if you then don;t provide what we SHOULD say. No one is saying those things above to make you feel bad. The intent is good. What would make you feel better? Should we say nothing?

Khan Fana 2 years ago

would you please send me a friend request i am block plz i am sorry i am so silly

Khan Fana 2 years ago

hello kelly milly hope you are ok and doing well blessing morning

cuevi 2 years ago

you did a perfect job of explaining why that statement could potentially cause more discomfort than offer support. i also believe your suggestions to provide concrete options for a friend to choose are brilliant. i think we forget just how difficult asking for and accepting help can be when we really WANT to help. this makes it easier to actually accept the help one might offer. thank you :)

Emma Gallagher 2 years ago

This is great advice

Coffee Mom 2 years ago

I have been on the receiving and giving end of your list. I’m so awkward when people are having a hard time. I want to help so badly, but rarely can find the words or actions to do so. Even though I know what pissed me off when my dad died, I still say the same damn things! Just remember people mean well, even when we say moronic things.

Emily 2 years ago

So very sorry to hear about your niece…I agree that it’s so difficult to find the right words — sometimes any — even with family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Emily 2 years ago

Yeah, that one drives me nuts too. I’ve had the “God gives you what you can handle”. Really? Because I never would have said I could handle this, but guess what, now I have no choice. Thank you for sharing your story with me and for commenting.

Emily 2 years ago

I had someone say the exact same thing to me…I’ve had others tell me I’m being tested, because I lost my mom to cancer just a few months ago. I think people feel the need to explain why bad things happen, but I’ve come to realize, they just happen and how we deal with them is what matters. Thank you for sharing your story and commenting…I appreciate it!

Emily 2 years ago

You got that one right Kelly — “I’m here” both in words and in person is a big comfort. I wish I had those magic words too — going through this now has made me realize I don’t have them, but will strive to do better the next time a friend needs me.

Emily 2 years ago

Yes, you are right that being silent is the worst — I should have put that in my post. Thank you for adding that. You couldn’t be more on target with that. Doing or saying SOMETHING is better than nothing at all. I know everyone cares, but sitting back and not trying to let someone know is worse than saying the wrong thing. Thank you for sharing your situation with your mom and commenting here. Just two months before my son was diagnosed, I lost my mom to terminal cancer so I do know what you’re going through…very sorry but I hope you take comfort in being with her as much as you can now. That helped me a lot, both then and now.

Emily Snipes 2 years ago

I agree with the statements you loathe the most. After a very serious car accident that landed me in a helicopter where I died once and an or where I died 3 more times, followed by years and years of surgeries, therapies, etc…. A friend gave me a magnet, "God only gives us what we can handle." Seriously? I am a Christian and I do not believe that God gave me all the pain and suffering because I could handle it. I didn't handle it well. I tried to commit suicide twice in the year following the accident. That is almost like saying God in punishing me, but no more than I can handle. Not only that… what is this "we can handle" shit? I didn't see my friend in ICU getting rods drilled into her legs.

Emily 2 years ago

That’s exactly right — I didn’t know what I needed either. And then I had people show up at my door or mail/send me all the right things. Just like you, I was more appreciative of those gestures than my friends probably realized.

Emily 2 years ago

As always, thank you for your support and caring words…you always seem to know the RIGHT thing to say and if you can’t find the words, you’re honest and just say so…I love that too. Hugs back at you!

Emily 2 years ago

Thanks Kathy – I knew you’d be able to relate somewhat, especially on the “it sucks” part. I too will probably still say the wrong thing to people going through a tough time, but now that I’m in this situation, I’m going to try a lot harder to be more sensitive and caring. Thanks again for reading and commenting over here.

Emily 2 years ago

It’s a relief to hear you confirm what I’ve said (not all my readers agree with the post) since you’ve been through it and understand…thank you for sharing your story and experience with me. I truly appreciate it.

Emily 2 years ago

You know you’re right — the list does go on. Thanks so much for commenting here…I’m with you on that book series! :)

Emily 2 years ago

Yes, I completely agree about people saying some crazy things…I’ve had one or two of those as well. I know it’s because they want to say something meaningful, but it ends up coming out convoluted and odd. Wishing you all the best with your scan…

Emily 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your story. So very sorry to hear about your daughter and you’re right, sometimes “I am sorry” is the only thing that one can say.

Emily 2 years ago

I couldn’t agree more — accepting help is very difficult and so is asking for it. You are right about your mind going blank — I know I needed the help, but wasn’t sure what or when I needed it. Fortunately, I had friends who kept asking and suggesting and made it easier for me to finally say, “okay, this is what would really be helpful to me and my family” and then told them what I needed.

Emily 2 years ago

You are right – some people need guidance on HOW to help. I know everyone’s heart is in the right place, but not everyone knows how to execute the help. I hope that you are receiving the help and support you need during your illness…all the best to you.

Emily 2 years ago

I have never been annoyed by what people say to me — I know they are trying to say something that will help and I truly do appreciate that. And I agree, saying or doing nothing is the worst. I’ve had some good friends barely reach out and that surprised me more than anything. But it also made me realize that maybe I haven’t been the best support to friends having hard times in the past and it makes me want to do better the next time.

Emily 2 years ago

I’d say the best way to handle the elephant in the room is to ask first if they want to talk about it, rather than asking a direct question like “what’s his diagnosis?” etc. That way, if the person wants to give you more detail, they can or else decline if not comfortable. And if you don’t know the person that well and still want to help — just send a card or drop something off (a meal or some cookies) at the house. The small gestures mean a lot.

Fawn Lipe 2 years ago

I had a miscarriage at 17 weeks a few years ago and I had to deliver the baby. The whole situation was a nightmare and I hated hearing "God has a plan for you" or "it wasn't in God's plants be right now". It made me so angry because I couldn't understand why I was so healthy and happy, but couldn't have a baby, but someone who did drugs or didn't want a baby could have one. Why were they in God's plan but I wasn't? That one drives me nuts!

Kelly Umphenour 2 years ago

You know it's terrible when you're a writer and you've learned millions of vocabulary words but never the magic ones? Those are times when no words will do other than…I'm here!

Heather 2 years ago

I do not know what it is like to have a seriously ill child. And my heart breaks a little bit every time I hear of a family struggling with such a diagnosis.
However, I felt I needed to respond to the above article. I have recently been told that my mother has a rare and deadly form of cancer. We are counting her time in months. I know that this article means well, however, I do think too many “Don’t say this..” lists leaves people afraid to reach out at all. One of the WORST things that has happened to my family since this news, is having a friend or family member remain silent. I have had dear friends say everything above, and I took it as I believe it was meant, caring. I have also had friends tell me honestly that they did not know what to say, but again, what was MOST important to me was that they cared enough to say SOMETHING. So my message to everyone would be to simply TRY. Reach out and let that struggling family/person know you care.. Offer to help and try to suggest a few concrete things you are willing to do. PLEASE DO NOT LET ARTICLES LIKE THIS FRIGHTEN YOU INTO BEING SILENT. THAT. WOULD. BE. THE. WORST. When you feel like your world might be ending, being ignored is a horror.
To the author of this article, I AM sorry that you and your family have to go through this. I will pray that all continues to go well, and that everyone around you continues to support you and your family in every way that you need. I hope that most of all you receive the message that in our less than perfect communications, we do really care.

Blanka 2 years ago

Emily, it is so hard for some of us to say any words at all. My half brother recently lost his 3-year-old to cancer. When he emailed me (he lives in Europe), it was to tell me that they established an account to gather money for experimental treatment. I send money of course, and clothes and stuff for his older daughter but I could not find words to describe how I felt. Even after my niece died, I still could not say anything (I have a 5-year-old and truly could not imagine how they must have felt). It is hard for us, spectators, to speak in such situations without sounding superficial or shallow, even with family sometimes.

Faye Harper Corman 2 years ago

I learned an interesting lesson when JP was sick. Friends would say, "Let me know if you need anything!" I know they meant well. I was same way when a tragedy hit someone else. The trouble was, I didn't have a clue what I "needed"…. Then a friend simply went to the store, bought bread, some lunchmeat, apples, milk and brought them to the house. She simply said "I went to the store and brought you some things I thought you might need." I appreciated that gesture more than she can ever imagine.

Kim Norton 2 years ago

Of all these statements the only one that irks me is "He is going to be fine." "Really?! How the Fuck do you know!?" The one I appreciate the most is "I Can’t Imagine What You Must Be Going Through.” While not the prefect sentiment it is honest. No one knows what to say.

The statements I loathe the most are: "I know how you feel," "I'm sorry," and "God only gives us what we can handle." Shoot them now.

jessica H 2 years ago

For real, I probably wont say anything anymore, don’t want to get on the persons nerves. I just recently told a friend of mine from high school that “I can’t imagine what your family is going through” after she told me the news that her 20m old son has been diagnosed with Leukemia. I was not looking for a response from her, I was simply making a statement, because I can’t, nor do I want to, wrap my mind around this horrible thing that is happening. Of course I asked about him, how he was, what he needed, etc.
Agreeing with the people below, all of these “what not to say” posts are a little overplayed. It makes me feel like just staying silent…I wont say anything to the parent of a sick child, or a parent of a child with disabilities because I might say the wrong thing. On the other hand, I am sure people are tired of hearing the same thing over and over….but maybe you could just not turn it into a blog post?

Kristi Campbell @Finding Ninee 2 years ago

I love that you’re sharing these guidelines on Scary Mommy. Everybody in the world should read this. I can relate a teeny tiny bit to the whole “You’re so strong/I admire you” line, but, obviously not at the same level. ASD is not cancer. Lines like that still make me beyond angry though. You’re right. Moms just do. The alternative, for most of us, isn’t one.
I will definitely keep these guidelines in mind forever and hope that others will as well. Huge hugs to you. I hope you and little dude are doing well and that you have lots of laughter this week (and always).

Kathy at kissing the frog 2 years ago

When my son had cancer, I heard all the time – “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” and the “I could never do what you’re doing.” I’d always say, “I hope you never have to imagine it,” and “Yes, you would. You would do what any mother would do.” I also hated the whole “Thoughts and prayers” thing, although, I know I’ve said that to people. What else are you supposed to say? People get uncomfortable with serious illness if they have never been through it. I have, but I’m sure I will still say something someone finds offensive. It sucks. All the way around, it sucks. Thanks for writing about it, Emily.

Kristina Alexander 2 years ago

I loved your article. My son was diagnosed with a crainiopharyngioma in February of 2004 (he was 7) and had it removed. While it isn't considered a cancer, it can come back anytime and has once already.There are many complications associated with the treatment of what the brain tumor caused. I remember the expectation to stay strong for everyone else while falling apart inside. The not asking for help….people figured I had all the help I needed since we lived with my parents. I think what people don't understand is that they are looking from the outside in…they don't understand sometimes that asking for help is hard…especially when you have other children to take care of. It takes alot to ask someone to help take care of things and your kids without feeling like you are burdening them. I am so glad that you and your family have those around you who have taken the initiative and given your family a support system so you can focus on your son :)

Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real. 2 years ago

Emily, this is truly helpful. I kind of think there should be a series of books on this: What not to say when someone’s child has been diagnosed with an illness, what not to say when your friend has miscarried, what not to say to someone who has lost a child/spouse/parent. The list goes on. I wish more people would be up front and say- Please- say this, not that. (Hey- wanna write that book series with me? 😉 ) xo

Amanda Lil 2 years ago

I’m working on a post of what not to say to a mom that has been diagnosed with cancer. I’ve gotten some real doozies! I am a mom to five littles and hopefully had my last chemo treatment a week ago- now waiting five weeks for a scan to find out if I’m in my remission. Even the most well meaning people say the the craziest things! Good luck to your son…

rob 2 years ago

I’m sorry to hear about your son. Glad to hear things are heading for the better. Having lost our first daughter at 18 months to a tragic accident, we know all too well what folks say to try to help you feel better when an unthinkable situation occurs. Unfortunately, nothing they say can truly help, other than knowing they cared enough to say anything. Be glad they’re there for you and try not to worry about any burden you feel they may be placing on you. They just want to offer their thoughts and prayers the best way they know how to do so.

I have found the best thing you say to someone that is going through a tough time? “I am so sorry.” That’s all. I’ll continue to think good thoughts for you and your family.

Emily 2 years ago

Good for you for kicking that sarcoma’s butt! Thank you for your thoughts and glimpse into my son’s future. :)

Emily 2 years ago

I do agree that not everyone is receptive to help. I think it’s almost harder to accept help than to give it. I also agree that it’s extremely difficult to know what to do or say and I too have been guilty of not saying or doing anything at all. It wasn’t until I was in this situation that I knew I wasn’t as supportive of a friend during a hard time as I could have been.

Emily 2 years ago

I don’t know if there is a “right” thing to say and I’m sure it does vary by person. For me, the most comforting thoughts have been simple and sincere and consistent: I’m here for you, I love you, etc. And then, to follow-up those thoughts with small gestures of help, be it a card, a meal, a toy for my son. Those are huge comforts during a crisis.

Emily 2 years ago

First, I am deeply sorry to hear about your son. I sincerely appreciate you sharing with me what was helpful to you after experiencing such a loss. You have made me realize that what may be comforting to one person, is not comforting to another. And by the way, I too have said some of the things on my list in the past to other people, which is why I felt the need to write this post. Again, thank you so much for your thoughts and comments.

Jill k 2 years ago

I’m sorry you’re going through this, much love and respect. However, I am not sure I agree with this post fully. It’s great if you think you’re helping others and that all those things annoyed YOU, but not everyone is the same. Everyone responds and reacts to life changing circumstances differently and you’re right, no one ever knows what to say. But as my best friend who is currently dealing with this just said to me :”I can honestly tell you that I never once found myself annoyed at what anyone said…I know well from being on the other side that most people including myself- Don’T KNOW WHAT to SAY! As far as I am concerned- if anyone said anything at all, it was comforting. Just being acknowledged and the random kind acts add miles to my stamina.”
I’m only commenting because if this makes even one person NOT want to reach out to a friend because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing, I hope this helps.
Good luck in your journey to being cancer free handsome!!!

Emily 2 years ago

Thank you for your thoughts – I do appreciate it. I think you’re right that people can vary in terms of what appeals to them in times of need. For some, asking for help is quite difficult. For me, the most helpful thoughts and actions have been consistent check-ins asking how we all are via phone calls, emails, texts and small gestures like cards and meals for my family.

Kati Gardner 2 years ago

Just to give you a little glimpse into the future…. I'm a 23-year survivor of Ewings Sarcoma (I was diagnosed at 8). I have two beautiful girls and did all those things young adults do (even the stupid stuff). I loved your list and as your son gets older he'll get to add his own list of things not to say to someone who has had cancer. It all gets redundant. Love to you and yours as you make your way through the minefield.

Emily 2 years ago

I agree that it’s unfair and so hard to find the right words. I think just letting someone know that you are truly there for them means a lot. And not just saying it once. But, letting them know you are thinking of them through consistent phone calls, a card, a small gesture, etc. — those types of things have been very comforting to me.

Emily 2 years ago

Just letting someone know you are going to support them, not just with words, but with gestures (whether it’s a card, phone calls, or a meal) is very meaningful.

Emily 2 years ago

Thank you for your thoughts and high five and good for you for kicking your cancer’s butt!!

Emily 2 years ago

Yes, I completely agree with you…asking how he/we are and the small gestures are huge for me.

Emily 2 years ago

I’ve been guilty too, which is why I felt the need to write about this!

Rachel 2 years ago

I’ve read your suggestion of saying “I love you and we’ll get through this together”. That’s an excellent suggestion if it is a close friend or family member. But what if you aren’t extremely close? What if you don’t already know the family’s schedule and what you can do to help?

I’m not sure people are looking for you to comfort them when they say they can’t imagine what you’re going through. I mean, what would happen if you said “You’re right. You can’t.” or “It’s pretty much the worst thing in the world.” without offering up any way that you’ll make it through?

Here’s something I always struggle with: Is it better to be direct and ask questions about what is going on, what happened, etc. or to just respect people’s privacy and let it be the pink elephant in the room? Especially in cases where someone’s illness or injury is obvious.

Julie Chenell DeNeen 2 years ago

Guilty, guilty, and guilty. I’ve said them all…in fact, maybe even to you Emily. Thank you for this post. It was very enlightening to me!! xoxo

BV 2 years ago

Great article!
Its good to know what NOT to say. I would love to write an article on what not to say to parents of adoptive children someday.

Janet Crit 2 years ago

Having been going through treatments for leukemia all this year, I have to say being asked “How can I help” has been the most frustrating thing. It put me on the spot to have to think about that person’s availability & capabilities, what things I needed, etc. Invariably my mind went blank. And then I began to feel pressured, like I had yet another thing to worry about: finding a way “you” can help me. If you want to help, follow up “How can I help?” with concrete suggestions:
I can go grocery shopping, take the kids to the park/library/amusements/babysit them/pick them up from school, what is the family’s favorite meal?, can I mow your lawn/do any yard work, etc. Also tell that person a rough estimate of when you’re available to help.
It’s very hard to accept help. Gift cards are a wonderful way to make life easier for someone going through this. Food places, Starbucks, Target, Amazon, GAS cards! We spent a small fortune in gas alone this year, driving back & forth to the hospital.

Jenny 2 years ago

As a person with a long term illness, I think people care to some degree, but it’s mostly an extension of a greeting. You’re right about ending up with the burden of comforting others. When people say “Hi, how are you?” They don’t really want to hear anything except “fine, how are you?” If you tell people how you’re ACTUALLY doing, they quit greeting you at all because they’re uncomfortable with it. And eventually you will tell someone how you are really doing because you can’t stand to keep saying “FINE” to make them feel good.
I think people are willing to help, but need specific guidance. Get one good friend to set up one of the websites that would let people sign up for meals or specific errands on specific days. That way people know exactly how they can help and they can choose the level of interaction they can deal with.

Emily 2 years ago

So sorry to hear you’ve been going through something similar but really glad to hear your son is doing so well. Thank you for confirming some of my thoughts and sharing yours here.

Emily 2 years ago

Sheesh, I wouldn’t know what to say in that situation either. The whole reason I wrote this post was because I’ve said all the wrong things to people going through hard times, and sometimes nothing at all, which is even worse.

Kristi Talley 2 years ago

What a great post! My son was diagnosed with a rare disease earlier this year and has been on chemotherapy since February. At the time of his diagnosis he was 3 months old. It was a nightmare! I think people truly didn’t know what to say to us and I felt that they often avoided talking about our son which was really disappointing. We want others to ask about him and to know that people are thinking of him and praying for him. You are right, the best thing that anyone can do is just show up with help on the day to day things. We have a 2 year old daughter as well and I literally felt like the bottom had dropped out of our world. Overwhelmed would be an understatement. Thankfully, my son is doing really well now. The statement “I can’t imagine what you are going through” is definitely the most common we heard from people. I think they just truly don’t know what to say. I think it also hits maybe a little bit too close to home for some people. I do feel that often people try to minimize what you are going through with statements such as “he will be fine” in order to maybe make themselves a little bit more comfortable with the situation.

Dawn 2 years ago

Like many people I never know what to say. I was at a party once when my friend told me her husband was terminal (while he was standing next to her). In in few seconds hundreds of comments ran through my head. I’m sorry, I’ll pray for a miracle , What can I do but, in the end I looked up at my friend’s husband and said “Well that sucks”. He laughed and said yes is does. Since then I’ve used that same line a few times (unfortunately) Cancer sucks!! plain and simple.

Emily 2 years ago

Yes, you are so right about saying less and doing more. Show me the love.:) And I completely agree about the giving and taking being hard on both ends. Thank you for your kind and caring thoughts.

Emily 2 years ago

So sorry to hear you are going through this too. I’m glad you could relate to my thoughts. Will be thinking of you and your child…

Emily 2 years ago

The most helpful thoughts to me have been the phone calls or cards that simply say, “I love you” and “we will get through this together.” Knowing I have the support of friends and family through simple gestures is hugely comforting.

Cassy 2 years ago

Agreed. All these lists of “what not to say when…” get old. Okay. You want to help write a list of “what to say when…” This is just you venting, blaming others when they’ve done nothing wrong. I mean really “What can I do to help?” is a damn fine thing to say to someone who is struggling. There is nothing kinder a person can say but you don’t want to hear anything and if they just didn’t say anything you’d whine about that too. Stop complaining about/alienating your well meaning friends and family and see a therapists who maybe actually can help you deal with what’s going on in your life.

anothermom 2 years ago

If you read the last paragraph, she essentially says she wants people to ask how her son is doing/feeling, etc. And she also asks that people help where they see a need… she no doubt doesn’t have a lot of time to think about how to comfort others…

Emily 2 years ago

Same with me, and I didn’t realize it until I was in this situation. I think once you’ve encountered your own hard times, you quickly learn how to support others.

v 2 years ago

I read this hoping it might help me respond to friends going through what you’re going through, I would really like to know what wouldn’t make them feel worse.

Emily 2 years ago

I’ve been guilty of saying the wrong things top people going through hard times and that’s why I wanted to write this post. Thanks for visiting me over here!

Emily 2 years ago

Say, “I love you” and “I’m with you all the way on this journey.”

Kim Thomson Pattison 2 years ago

I came to realize while fighting my daughters battle with cancer with her ,people try and be helpful with words but they dont know and god forbid will never have to find out what you are going through!Just keep in mind they are clueless and mean well :) If you need help for god sakes ask.. people are not mind readers I know its hard to ask but they dont know how to help you unless you tell them what you need help with!Yes you are strong ,stronger than you ever thought you could be you dont realize what you would do or how strong you can be untill faced with your child having cancer understand they in theyre minds are thinking they couldnt do what your doing right now they cant imagine!Cancer is a battle you and your son are fighting together so stay strong and dont sweat the small stuff in the end all that matters is that you and your son come out of this battle mentally and physically healthy!!

Woolies 2 years ago

Whenever there is a family illness/emergency it is very difficult to know how to offer help/support. A few years ago I broke my back in an accident. We had recently moved to a new city, and I didn’t have any close friends nearby. With 2 school-age kids – it was hard. I would have LOVED evening meals delivered. A sick child is much more devastating, and I would love to know what you feel would be a strong and supportive response. My best to you and your family!

GPC 2 years ago

Honestly, we need to start being more supportive of each other and that means understanding the intentions behinds someone’s comments not just their words. All of these seem like things people who want to help say. Normal people are not specially trained therapists with writers on hand to craft the perfect reaction to horrible news. And other people in this position might not be receptive to “help” that isn’t asked for or desired.

NoAdditives 2 years ago

Right?! I’m always seeing lists of things not to say to people in various situations, but that’s not really helpful. Give us recommendations for things we should say instead. Other than the “just do things instead of asking” suggestion in this post there was nothing helpful. It just makes people feel bad for having the same gut reaction responses. In all honesty, it kind of makes people not want to address it at all since that’s easier than saying something that will apparently annoy you.

Ariana is Still Growing 2 years ago

Most of that list comprises statements that are very natural and that we all say. But having been through a similar situation, I agree with almost all of what of this. I can’t speak for Emily, but for me helpful things were just asking how he’s doing, how the the rest of the family is. The acknowledgement that this is a really rough time…without any follow up (yes, the superwoman compliment never works). And offeing to do something, meals, babysitting, rides. Even just offering to come over, or an invitation to lunch.

Jennifer 2 years ago

I’m so sorry your family is going through this.
I’m wondering, however, what you would consider the “right” thing to say. I know when I say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” to someone, I mean that every person deals with crises in her own way, and I wouldn’t assume I know exactly how she feels. I’m not sure how that is offensive. And as for someone asking how she can help…maybe that’s just it. Maybe she doesn’t know exactly what to do…she just knows she wants to help in some way.
I understand that you must be tired of the same platitudes day after day, but please understand that most often there aren’t any hidden meanings behind them.

monica 2 years ago

I am so sorry for what your family is having to go through. I hope that your son makes a full recovery. My daughter’s good friend (who was eight at the time) was diagnosed with cancer two years ago this Christmas and I am afraid that I may have said all of the things on your list (with the exception of the last one). ugh. I am curious, too. What do people in your situation want to hear? What are the best things to say? When we lost our son at the age of two, I liked hearing “I can’t imagine what you are going through” from people who had not ever lost a son because it was infinitely better than: “I know how you feel,” when I truly think that’s impossible. So, I guess since I liked hearing that sooooo much better than “I know how you feel” – I thought that would be something appropriate to say. guess I was wrong on that count!

Susan Bonifant 2 years ago

I remember when you first talked about this at Gen Fab, and my first thought was: how to help? It takes time to learn that it is better to say less and do more, and that it is more important to show up, than ask if you’re needed. But it’s hard. Giving and taking can both feel clumsy. The thing is to know you’re prayed for, thought of, supported, loved, and deeply cared for. Good thoughts, and thank you for helping people help you.

KTG 2 years ago

For some reason articles like these bug me, mainly because it is obvious the people saying them are concerned and are trying to be supportive the only way they know how. So I agree, if you are telling people not to say these things, please tell them what they should say instead. Personally, if anyone said these things to me.. I would not be offended or annoyed unless, they said it in a tone that meant they didn’t mean it and were just going through the motions. I know for a fact, I have said ” let me know what I can do to help” and that comes down to personalities. I am the kind of person who hates when people assume I need or want help and start helping, because if I want or need help I will ask.

With that being said. I am sorry for this tough time you are going through and really do hope everything will get better and better.

Karen 2 years ago

Yes, please, what should we say? I don’t think there is anything that can be said for comfort, though, when a child is sick. It’s truly not fair.

Sarah 2 years ago

I am very sorry for what your family is facing, and for your son. What would be the best things to say in this situation instead?

MILF Runner 2 years ago

It is really helpful to know what you’re wanting and not wanting right now. I hope you’re able to let people know this as it comes up for you…not in a needing to take care of them sort of way but in a taking care of YOU sort of way :) How is your son doing and feeling? He is fortunate to have such a connected, caring, and loving mom.

Tony Mo 2 years ago

Pretty much spot on. You put into words what I was feeling, but couldn’t define. Our summer was spent going through chemo for my 6-year old with Hodgkins Lymphoma, so thanks for the post.

Katie 2 years ago

The difference between offering help, and GIVING help is huge! Thinking of you mamma, and give that boy a big high five from me… one childhood cancer surviving warrior to another! xoxo

Stevi 2 years ago

I understand what you are saying, and I appreciate all the articles about what not say to certain parents, such as this one. However I truely wish these types of articles were followed up with “What we SHOULD say”

Tiffany Drew 2 years ago

so what exactly are we suppose to say ?????

Shell 2 years ago

I’m so sorry that your family is having to go through this.

I know I’ve been guilty of saying some of those things to families that were going through a rough time- simply because I didn’t know what TO say and I wanted to say something, not just ignore their situation.

Janine Huldie 2 years ago

Thank you for sharing what not to say, because I think I might be guilty of a few over the years trying to be nice and helpful in times like these, but not always sure what is the right or correct thing to say. I think in times like these, people just do get weird and say things to try to be kind and nice. But you are right this is so not what needs to be said or heard when your child is sick. Again thanks for sharing and happy to see you here today.


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