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What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

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What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

The New York Times,

5 min read
5 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

When someone you know receives a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know what to say or do.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Inspiring


Personal health columnist Jane E. Brody clearly explains which common approaches to cancer patients to avoid and why, based on insight into how they make patients feel. Backed up by expert authors, she outlines what to do and say to help people with cancer feel cared for. None of the suggestions are difficult or time-consuming; they’re simply things many people don’t think to do. Once explained, they are easy to understand and remember. getAbstract recommends Brody’s cogent advice to everyone who cares about someone battling cancer.


It can be hard to know what to say to a cancer patient. “How are you?” might seem kind, but it can come across as invasive, and it confronts people with their vulnerability. Many well-meaning individuals say the wrong things, but the fear of faux pas isn’t a reason to stay away. It’s important to keep in touch so the person doesn’t feel hurt and neglected.

Stan Goldberg, a communications specialist and professor emeritus of communicative disorders at San Francisco State University, wrote a book about his personal experience with aggressive prostate cancer. He...

About the Author

Jane E. Brody is an award-winning personal health columnist for The New York Times.

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