In part 1 of “Practical Grace–How to Not Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer,” I shared my observations from a recent cancer treatment appointment and what I observed there with regard to people’s typical reactions to a friend with cancer. In that post, I shared how each of these responses correlated to the responses in the book of Job by his friends toward him when he experienced major tragedy. In part 2, of “Practical Grace—What Not to Say to Someone With Cancer,” I’m sharing what isn’t helpful to say when a friend or loved one receives a cancer diagnosis, and then in part 3, we’ll consider what IS helpful to say to someone with cancer.
5 Things Your Friend with Cancer Doesn’t Need for You to Say:
Proverbs 18:21 says that “the tongue has the power of life and death,” and James 3:10 says “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” Let’s choose to uplift, breathe life and bless with our words.
1) Please, Please, PLEASE! If you speak with or go visit a friend or a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer or some other medical condition, please don’t share stories of others you know who did not do well, or who had a difficult time or who faced complications!
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).
2) Please, don’t tell them your theory of what led to their disease, or even what you think the “be all to end all” miracle cure is. Both of these induce guilt, shame, and condemnation on an individual who is hurting, who is grieving for what they thought would be, and who really needs your love, compassion, and prayers more than anything.
- Job: “Have mercy on me, my friends, have mercy” (Job 19:21).
- Let’s not forget Jesus’s response when they tried to cast blame for the man’s blindness: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:1-3).
If you have first-hand experience with a treatment or potential cure that was successful, ask your friend first if they are interested in hearing about potential options. They may already be too overwhelmed. Be sensitive to their needs, not your agenda.
3) Don’t offer input your friend may not be ready for. Remember, Job’s friends didn’t get into trouble when they sat silently with him, it was only when they began to speak!
- Job: “If only you could be silent! That’s the wisest thing you could do” (Job 13:5).
- Job: “They know I have no one to help me. They come at me from all directions. They jump on me when I am down” (Job 30:13-14).
4) Don’t assume YOU know the best course of action for your friend or loved one’s situation. Let your ill friend seek GOD for wisdom to determine what HE wants them to do in their situation.
- Job: “You people really know everything, don’t you? And when you die, wisdom will die with you! Well, I know a few things myself—and you’re no better than I am…Yet my friends laugh at me, for I call on God and expect an answer…True wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his” (Job 12:2-4, 13).
- Job: “But do people know where to find wisdom? Where can they find understanding?… God alone understands the way to wisdom; he knows where it can be found” (Job 28:12, 23).
- Job: “The ear tests the words it hears just as the mouth distinguishes between foods” (Job 34:3).
5) If they want an opinion, let them ask you for it. Even with all my years of medical training and decades of patient care, I make it a practice not to offer my opinion unless I’m first asked for it.
- Job: “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief” (Job 16:2-5).
- Job: “My friends scorn me, but I pour out my tears to God.” (Job 16:20)
Please hear me. I’m not saying medicine has all the answers—they don’t. But God does. I’m not saying medication is the answer—by and large medicine doesn’t cure, rather it addresses the symptoms. I’m not even saying some of these suggestions don’t hold some merit—they may. But they are unsolicited, prideful, and hurtful in the delivery.
Job was an encourager (see Job 4:3-4 and 16:5-6 and 29:13), and when calamity struck, what he needed, like most people who have been given a major medical diagnosis or are going through a crisis, is encouragement, love and compassion. Scripture says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
Prayer for God’s help when your friend or loved one has cancer.
May I pray for you?
Father, cancer is an evil disease. We know that it is your desire that we would prosper and be in health even as our soul prospers. Father, we seek you for your wisdom and discernment for what to do in each individual situation. Father, where there is bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness, let us release that to you. Let us live in your peace despite our situations. Help us to be good, faithful, supportive friends to those who are hurting and in pain. Let us offer the hope we have found in you. Guide our words and our actions. May they come from a heart of love and compassion. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.
Practical Grace–How to Not Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer (Part 1)
Practical Grace: How To Be a Friend to Someone with Cancer (Part 3)
How To Support Someone with Cancer
10 Lessons Learned After Being Diagnosed with Cancer
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I am being so blessed by this series. I want only to encourage and bless those I love with cancer or any other major illness so thank you for sharing these thoughts on what to not say to my dear ones who are already suffering greatly. I love them and want only to comfort and love. You are a blessing to share not only from your years of medical practical experience but also from your own recent cancer diagnosis and treatment. I love and appreciate you Dr. Michelle!!
Karen, I really want to believe that most people only want to bless and encourage others, but sometimes a lack of understanding, knowledge or compassion causes pain to those they encounter. My greatest desire is for God to use my own pain for good, and to help encourage others. I pray that I will learn all He has for me in this season and then be a voice for those who may not feel they have one.
May I encourage you, Dr. Michelle, that you ARE being a voice for those who do feel they don’t have one and your personal experience does encourage people to listen to what you say and apply it to their lives! Your pain is not wasted for you are impacting many with your messages! Thank you!!!
Thank you so much for your encouragement, Karen. That is my prayer, that God will use this for good not just for me but for others as well, always pointing back to Him as our source of hope.
Michelle – I just finished reading “How to support someone with cancer – Part 2. It was truly a blessing and it will be so helpful for me in dealing with friends who have cancer. Thank you for using what you have learned professionally as well as what you are learning personally in your cancer battle. I know God is honored by what you are doing and sharing.
Praying much for you tonight dear friend. Love n hugs.❤️❤️????
Donna, thank you for your continued support. My prayer is that my journey will in some way help others, but most of all glorify Him.
This is a great list and the scripture you tied with it really connected with me. So many times I read passages in the Bible and think of it like I’m reading fiction: I picture myself as the ‘main character’—Job in this case—and how s/he deals with the ‘bad guys’—Job’s friends.
But it’s not like reading a book, because these things actually happened, and so often I am the ‘bad guy.’ You helped me see that today, and I thank you.
It’s so easy to go into a situation where I don’t know what to say and end up saying ANYTHING because you’re supposed to comfort. Many things shouldn’t be said; sometimes silence is the answer. Thank you for this today. And God bless you.
Thank you for stopping by today, and for leaving your thoughts. I think we’ve probably all said or done things that we can look back and wish we hadn’t. My hope is that by sharing from my own experience, it’ll help others understand who haven’t had to walk through the path personally.
Thank you for continuing to be a voice through your journey with cancer. Your words are so helpful. My desire is to comfort others walking this path and your wisdom helps. I am praying right not you will be blessed, comforted and love by those around you today. Thank you for sharing with Grace & Truth Christian Link-Up. Maree
Maree, I know your heart is to extend love and compassion, and I have no doubt that you do. Sometimes when we haven’t walked a path, we don’t know how best to help others navigate it. Hopefully this will prove useful not just for helping those with cancer but for a variety of other life’s trials as well.
This is such great advice, and not just toward cancer patients, but toward anyone with an illness. People genuinely want to help with their words, but often they hurt if they don’t know better. Thanks for educating us to know better.
Lisa, that was my hope…that people could apply this to many more scenarios than just to cancer patients. I think you’re right…most people genuinely want to help, but often don’t know what to say. Hopefully this will serve as a guide.
Thank you for sharing this helpful post at Best of the Weekend Link Party last week. I featured you this past Friday! https://www.b4andafters.com/best-weekend-link-party-mar8/
You’re so sweet! Thank you for doing that. I pray parts 1-3 of this series will help others support those they love.
Thanks for writing this series. Just within this past year I have had a sister and brother diagnosed with cancer…and it’s so hard to know what to say or not to say sometimes. I am especially close to my sister and I just want to be available to her for love, support, and prayer. Your insight is such a blessing to myself and so many. Thank you for your faithfulness.