Olivia Rose Smith

Sunday, 4 March 2018

What to say when somebody is diagnosed with cancer...

In the first stages of my diagnosis I found it way too easy to drop into conversations that I was undergoing tests to ‘rule out’ cancer. It all seemed so absurd and out of the question anyway that I hadn't even contemplated I would end up having to deliver the news I did to all my friends and family. It was therefore my own fault that I ended up with almost everybody bombarding me with messages asking “when do you get the results?”. I told almost all my friends over WhatsApp and thank god for that because I would not have been able to do that face to face (I do not do crying).

This was the point where I realised why people are secretive about things like this. It is obviously so reassuring to know I have such a huge support network, but I began to feel like an alien. It is not until something of this nature happens to you that you learn the right way to act towards a person going through it. This is nobodies fault, I was that person two days ago. But dramatic messages of heart break from upset friends only act as reminders of whats going on. People want to be there for you, and that is so so kind, but to be so upset that I actually end up consoling them over the situation is frustrating and you leave the conversation feeling down yourself. Of course you will be saddened to hear the news, but ultimately I don't benefit from hearing of your sadness. 

Uplifting and positive messages are so important and these are the people you end up running to. Highlight the positives in the situation, for example, age is on my side, or, you will come out of this a better, stronger person. Reminders that I am going to be fine, that I will beat this, that I will appreciate life so much more after all this go a lot further than messages likely to drag me down and remind me of the reality of how unfair this illness really is. Obviously it is not helpful for me to think like that, so I must look past it and focus on the positives.

Gifts are lovely, I am always grateful to receive flowers and cards. But when they arrive in the post this can be so isolating, it can make you feel as though people are trying to avoid you or are too scared to see you or they don't know how to talk about it.

This next point is so important to me, and is one of the main reasons I have decided to start this blog. It is hard to take advice from people who don't understand what you are going through, as in, from non cancer fighters. So if you do understand and you are going through the same yourself or have done in the past, it is so important to reach out to others to give them advice and to send them supportive messages. When people fully understand your struggle, that is when you know what they are saying is completely sincere and honest.

Lastly, this is by far the most irritating, is healthy people, who don't have cancer, suggesting alternative treatments to chemo. As if we are going to risk our lives and think oh yeah do you know what you're right I shouldn't have chemo and decide to travel to the states for CBD treatment or something similar. We really have no option but to listen to our doctors advice. There is nothing worse than people suggesting that doctors are wrong and that the NHS is a business thriving off us being unwell and that we shouldn't listen to our doctors. So, my advice is block it all out, and listen to your doctor because everything else is going to seriously mess with your head.

One of the best things is when your friends act exactly as they did before you knew. In other words, the only thing that is going to make you feel better is forgetting, you need to return to normality and for people to act as usual around you, because it is so important not to let this nasty disease take anything else away from you.

1. Don't unload your sadness onto your friend with cancer - we don't benefit from hearing of your heartbreak.
2. Uplifting and positive messages are so important - highlight all the positives.
3. Try not to avoid your friend, it becomes obvious that you don't know what to say.
4. If you don't know what to say - act as you normally would. This helps to return to normality!

Please remember that everybody is different and this is just my personal preference! But I am sure there are other people out there who agree with what I am saying, so I hope that this helps someone out there somewhere!



  1. Hi Olivia, I just wondered if any of these resources and links might be helpful.

    The 'ring theory' helps people understand what to say to whom: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/promoting-hope-preventing-suicide/201705/ring-theory-helps-us-bring-comfort-in?amp

    And these groups are for young people with a cancer diagnosis: http://shinecancersupport.org
    FB letsfcancer

    I really hope you can find people to connect with-they are out there!

    Very best wishes. You are being prayed for.


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