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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Cowey

Things TO say to a cancer patient and a letter to the Internet.

We are always being told what not to say to cancer patients, what language not to use around cancer. It is true, we should be sensitive about the subject, and sensitive when speaking to people living with cancer about their diagnosis - but with all this 'do not say', we need somebody to tell us what to say to cancer patients.

I personally have had a wide range of responses to my diagnosis, and while most have been positive, I've certainly had a lot of things said to me that have offended and angered me. I occasionally receive comments about what new alternative therapies I should try, and how I just need to cut *this* and *that* out of my diet to kill my cancer. I get messages telling me I can 'beat this', and people telling me that I'll be 'fine'. And while all of these things are 100% well meaning, they are not 100% helpful to me, and don't necessarily make me feel better about my disease. As someone with an incurable cancer, I really am never going to beat it, and I will not always be okay. It is good to stay hopeful, but I'd prefer it if my feelings (and my truth) were validated, not refuted by people who are not doctors.

In this blog, I want to give you some alternative things to say to cancer patients, instead of the stuff that is likely to cause offence.

*Please note, you don't always have to say anything. Sometimes it is better to just listen and comfort.*

  • Instead of: "They lost their battle with cancer"... try saying:

-"They died of cancer."

  • "They're fighting cancer", try:

-"They're living with cancer", or "They're going through cancer treatment".

  • "You're so brave", try

-"Do you want to talk about it?", "How can I help?", "How do you feel about it?"

  • "Have you tried CBD/turmeric powder?".

-"What are your treatment options?" "How are you today?" "Would you like me to come to the hospital with you?", "Wow, I can't imagine how hard this must be for you."

  • "You can fight this".

-"I'm here with you".

  • "She beat cancer".

- "She's in remission".

  • "Well at least you got a good cancer".

-"F*** cancer. Cancer sucks".

  • "You'll beat this".

-"Whatever happens, I'll always be here".

  • "Stay strong/Just stay positive".

-"I'm here to listen", "wanna grab some food?", "I love you."

  • "I have a friend/uncle/grandad/friend of a friend who died of cancer" OR "I have a friend who did *this* and now they're in remission".

-"That must be so hard for you, are you coping okay?" "I know some good support groups near you, if you want me to I can send you some links?"

  • "You don't look like you have cancer"/"But you look so well!" -

-"I'm sorry you're going through that, I'm here to listen if you want to talk about it".

  • "God gave you cancer for a reason"

-This one can just f*** right off. (Sorry.)

The key with us cancer patients is to listen and validate. I know that makes us sound super needy, but we're going through enough already, and don't need to be told how we should be dealing with things from someone who hasn't been through it themself. Remember, we are the same person we always were, only now with a diagnosis, so there's no need to pity us or tiptoe around us, just be kind, and thoughtful, and you can't go *much* wrong.

It is difficult to change a whole terminology, and cancer language is something that is so ingrained in us - we almost can't help saying we 'lost' someone to cancer - but we need to start shifting. We are a sensitive bunch of humans, who hate talking about topics that upset us, like death and cancer, but in order to start bettering the world, we need to accept that these things happen every day and talk about them far more openly and frankly. One of my first ever blogs was about the 'taboo' that is Cancer. Using language like 'battle', 'warrior' etc. just perpetuates the taboo and confirms that we are still not comfortable with the reality of the disease. I want to be able to speak openly about my diagnosis, without fearing that I'll make people feel awkward or upset, or that they'll turn around and ask me if I've tried going vegan, or ask me if I ate a lot of sugar as a child.

I'll sign off this post with a polite letter to the internet.

Dear the internet,

Stop telling me to try turmeric, quit sugar, quit alcohol, start smoking weed and go on a juice cleanse. I promise you, it won't work.

Many thanks,

Maddie Cowey.


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Jul 29, 2021

Hi Maddie, loving your blogs. My daughter has asps and is also on cediranib. I can relate to everything you’ve said and it is so refreshing, relatable and honest to read. Loving your updates, keep them coming!! xx


Nov 18, 2020

Hi Maddie. I received a link to your blog from your uncle, Mark Pharoah, who I know via the internet through his published work. He also linked me to your cousin Connie's beautiful performance of Britten's "Lachrymae for viola and piano'. It's a pleasure for me to meet both of you through the internet -- you are inspiring and lovely young women. I also want to say how much I appreciate your blog post on 'Things TO say to a cancer patient and a letter to the Internet'. I hope it gets propagated far and wide for it expresses great wisdom. You have all of my best wishes and hopes for the experimental treatment you will be receiving a…

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