Back in the 1960’s, Art Linkletter had a TV show that featured kids answering simple questions asked by Mr. Linkletter. What made the show so funny, and also gave the show its name, is that kids say the darndest things – often to the chagrin of their parents. For most cancer patients, the same could be said of family, friends, and co-workers when they find out you have been diagnosed with cancer.

When I was first diagnosed and started to share that information, I got all types of responses. I recognized quickly how ill-equipped people are at giving words of help or hope to people who’ve just had a ton of hurt dropped on them. Often, people simply don’t know how to handle tragic news. There are times when saying nothing is better than putting your foot in your mouth. When I began to share the news of my diagnosis with family, friends, and co-workers, here are some of the comments I got back:

  • Do you know you can die from this?!
  • Is it the bad kind?
  • I saw something on TV about that – wow that’s too bad for you.
  • I don’t know – I think you’ll look okay without any hair.
  • You know, being bald is ‘in’ for guys these days now.
  • Is your family upset?
  • Well, there’s nothing I can do for you.
  • I’ll bet you just want to cry, eh?
  • You need to go to MD Anderson right away!!!
  • You'll get a second opinion, right?
  • You know you'll never be able to get life insurance again.
  • Are they sure it’s really cancer?
  • How much time are you going to have to take off work?
  • Well, that happens to a lot of people these days ...
  • You don’t look sick to me.
  • Why did you get cancer?
  • It was probably all that cigarette smoking you did, right?
  • How long did they give you?
  • I knew a guy who had the same type of cancer – he died.

On the other hand, there are people who know exactly how to come alongside someone to give words of great encouragement and hope. In my Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance, I talk about the best word of encouragement ever given to me in this journey. It was given to me by my oncologist on the day he gave me my final diagnosis. After telling me the news, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and said, “Paul, I want you to keep making plans.” That changed my whole perspective in an instant. I knew he was helping me see myself as a survivor and that he would fight right alongside of me.

For cancer patients, you know as well as I do that most people have no idea the shock it is to hear those terrible words, “You have cancer.” Most people can’t even begin to imagine the deep emotional hurt suddenly thrust into your life. They just can’t find the words that go deep enough to reach your pain. Yeah, they’ll say stupid stuff, but you should recognize they’re only trying to offer words of comfort – silly as they may be. That’s another good reason why this blog is so helpful – the authors know the pain you are in because we’ve been there and know the hurt. Our goal is to offer comforting words of help, hope, and encouragement. You’re not alone in this storm, and there can be a rainbow at the end of this tough fight. We’re here to help you weather the storm and to help you see the sun can rise in your life again.

About the Author

Paul J. Lawonn has more than 37 years of industrial safety and leadership experience and has provided consulting to more than 100 companies. Prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2005, Paul led the safety function at Harley Davidson’s Milwaukee power train operations manufacturing plant. His last position with Harley was corporate safety manager for compliance and employee training. He was diagnosed in 2005 with mantle-cell lymphoma but waged a successful nine- year battle and is now cancer-?free. Paul’s priority now is on inspirational and motivational speaking, writing, and coaching. He is particularly fervent about donating his time to charities that finance and fuel cancer research and organizations that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’s written a guide to fighting cancer that he calls “Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance.” 

Sue Northey

I have a few more to add:
Her: Are you going to get a wig?
Me: No.
Her: You HAVE to. You are going to scare your children!
Me: Truthfully, it's the cancer that scares my children.

Insurance Agent: I'd like to talk to you about life insurance.
Me: Now is not a good time.
Insurance Agent: Why?
Me: I am battling cancer at the moment.
Insurance Agent: You know, it's never to late to buy life insurance.

You are just getting through this so easily. (How would you know?)

You are so lucky you got the good kind of cancer. (Is there a good kind?)

You know, they have a cure for cancer but the drug industry wants to make money, so they are hiding it from all of us.

Kathy Bornheimer

The second opinion comment comes up frequently. I'm now experiencing metastatic rectal cancer in the lungs. I have to give anatomy lessons to most people in regards to this. The second opinion comments usually suggest places far away from Milwaukee (Mayo Clinic, Cancer Centers of America, etc.).The second most frequent comment is "But you look so good!"
Well, how do you want me to look?