12 Things You Should Never Say to Someone with Breast Cancer

Whatever you do, don’t tell them to “smile.”

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One of the most helpful things you can do for someone diagnosed with breast cancer or going through treatment is to be there, be present, and be supportive. That being said, you might feel a little anxious about what to say, and you may be dreading those difficult conversations. You’re not alone.

Everyone has different reactions to things, but some comments are a universal “no.” Here’s what you should not say to someone with breast cancer, according to the breast cancer patients and survivors HealthiNation interviewed.

Realize who needs reassuring

“‘Keep fighting. Don’t stop. You’re gonna kick its ass.’ It feels like people are trying to reassure themselves more than they’re trying to reassure me.”
—Alyssa, diagnosed at 23

Don’t downplay it

“I think people try to make it not that bad.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36

Things may not be what they seem

“It was hard to hear a lot of the comments that people were saying. I had a double mastectomy, so I have ‘new boobs.’ People thought that was really awesome and exciting, but I don’t want these boobs. This is not me.  I have scars all over my body. This isn’t a free boob job, which some people refer to it as.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 32

Talk about something else

“I don’t always want to have to talk about how I felt after chemo today, which chemo meds I’m taking—the specifics aren’t necessary after they happen.”
—Lisa, diagnosed at 46

Don’t tell me to smile

“One time, someone said to me, ‘Smile. It’ll get better.’ I’m a smiley person to begin with. I don’t need to be told that when you feel like crap that day.”
—Leslie, diagnosed at 44

Focus on the present

“‘Are you afraid that it’s going to come back?’ I was trying to stay in the present and be positive, not think about the past and worry about the future.”
—Jamie, diagnosed at 45

Show solidarity, not pity

“I would say, instead of saying, ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this,’ I would say to them, ‘Know that I’m with you and I’ll be there for you 100 percent with the things that you’re going through right now.’ That’s what I would say.”
—Doris, diagnosed at 37, 47, 54

Keep the stories to yourself

“That their aunt had just passed away or they just had a friend of a friend who just died or someone who had breast cancer and then it came back again—I don’t want to hear those stories.”
—Christine, diagnosed at 42

It’s not the time for this

“Don’t tell me that your mother’s had this twice because the only word I hear in that sentence is ‘twice.’”
—Sally, diagnosed at 40

Think about who you’re talking to

“As you’re trying so hard not to say something that’s going to offend somebody, you end up not tuning in to the individual that you’re trying to communicate with. One person’s crass line is another person’s belly laugh.”
—Mark, diagnosed at 55

Be careful with the compliments

“When someone says that to you, it’s hard. When they say to you, ‘You know what? Really, you look okay like this.’ You can’t be angry at someone that’s trying to make you feel good.”
—Doris, diagnosed at 37, 47, 54

Don’t forget nonverbals

“Say nothing. Smile. Smile is a universal language. If you don’t know what to say, smile. A touch. A hug. But be very cautious about the way you speak with people that are going through this because words, sometimes, you can’t take them back. ”
—Theresa, diagnosed at 44


A very special thanks to Susan G. Komen Greater New York City.