What to do when someone you love is diagnosed

Jul 23, 2019 | Blog Articles

It’s often difficult to know what to say when someone you love is diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening illness. Some people find it so uncomfortable that they’d rather cross the street than say hello to you.

Why is this? The anguish of diagnosis is a big enough trauma without feeling deserted by people because they don’t know what to say. So, how can we be supportive when someone we like or love has been given a diagnosis? What could we say? How can we let them know that we’re here for them?

Petrea shares some supportive and meaningful insights into the DO’s and DON’T’s of what to say to someone who’s just been diagnosed;

DO say:

  • I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now but I want you to know I’m here for you and happy to listen or sit in silence.
  • Do listen without judgment.
  • Do meet them where they are, not where you want them to be.
  • Do something practical if you can. Perhaps pick the children up after school, offer to drive your friend to their treatment or support group or counsellor or take the dog to the vet – it’s doing those incidental jobs that can life a huge weight.
  • Most importantly, ask your friend what kind of support they might most value. Would they like you to research options, doctors, specialists, treatments or complementary therapies?

DON’T say:

  • Don’t tell people to be positive or keep their chin up.
  • Don’t tell people they shouldn’t feel the way they do. If that’s how a person feels, be respectful and don’t judge. A person will not disclose what you might perceive as negative feelings if they feel they will be judged. It is not negative to talk about death, suicide, despair, depression, panic or fear. Talking about things gets the energy of the feeling moving and as soon as we are able to utter the unutterable, we find the feeling diminishes in its intensity. Sometimes we don’t know what we feel until we hear what we say.
  • Don’t talk about others you know who have suffered with or died of the disease that your friend’s just been diagnosed with.
  • Don’t assume that you know how another person is feeling. For instance, for one person who has cancer in the breast, he or she may feel relieved that it is in a part of their body where it can easily be removed, whilst for another it may be devastating to her body image and sexuality.

Support available:

  • Sometimes the most unexpected people appear in your life and are wonderfully supportive. Be open to the unexpected. People are so willing to help.
  • For many people, perhaps for the first time in their lives, they realise how much other people really care about them.


Learn about ways to make positive changes  and create an environment for profound healing through our Living Mindfully: with Cancer & Illness 1-day workshop and our Quest for Life intensive 5-day residential program.