Two people are in the frame - the one on the left is nonchalantly talking with blue and red talking bubbles coming out of his mouth, while the person on the right soaks it up, feeling small.

What to Say & Not Say to Someone With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Last updated: January 2021

Reactions to my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis

The most common reaction when I tell people I have metastatic breast cancer is, “Oh I am so sorry”. I reply quickly, “No need to be sorry”. I let them know immediately that MBC is something I never asked for, but it is mine to deal with in the way that is best for me. The most annoying thing I find can be found in unspoken words. Some people get a sad look in their eyes. It is a look that conveys their concern about my longevity. It's as if they are saying, "Will I be here next week, next month or next year?" This is the reason I don’t like to tell everyone my diagnosis because I try to live my life to the fullest.

So many questions about my metastatic diagnosis

Then there are those I call the “talk show hosts” that ask you a multitude of questions. All I want to say to them is I need to return to my normal life with normal conversation. I want someone to ask me “How are your granddaughters?” These well-meaning individuals continue with questions about prognosis, medications, side effects, how this diagnosis is interfering with everyday life and the list continues.

Other negative comments center around how tired you look and one of my absolute favorites, “Your hair seems to be getting thin.” They continue to ask, “Is this a side effect of one of your medications?”

What to say to someone with metastatic breast cancer

I think people should stop feeling they have a need to react immediately with empty words. They should try to listen, really listen. Let’s face it, listening is a dying art. Once someone hears what I am telling them about my diagnosis, how I am handling things and whatever else I decide to share, then I like to hear a supportive voice with positive comments. To be honest, it is better they say nothing if words fail them. People should say, “Words are failing me right now, but I am here for you however you need me.”

Prayers are always welcome and many people in my circles are from my church and they simply assure me of their daily prayers. Believe it or not, sometimes I meet a person at the gym and I share my diagnosis with them. They also assure me of their prayers and weeks later, I run into them again, and they ask me how I am, and some have said, “Do you know since I met you, I pray for you every day.” These are powerful reminders to me that even a stranger can become wonderful support as I navigate through this disease.

In this age of texting, I find this text simple message can be uplifting. “Thinking about you and hope you are doing well. Let me know if you need me. Just call anytime.”

Positive interactions

At the end of the day, I try my best not to be overly sensitive to what I deem unnecessary and negative commentary. I try to stay open to everyone’s questions and concerns. What I crave is normalcy for my life. Whatever brings my life back to the ordinary. The people I want to be around are those that make me laugh, make me feel like I have a viable life to live.

Listening goes both ways

Finally, listening should go both ways. When someone is babbling on trying their best to make conversation with me, I say to myself, let me listen, really listen for some wisdom. Please don’t tell me how sorry you are for me. There is nothing to be sorry about. I am doing fine. In fact, I am doing great. My journey with metastatic breast cancer continues to amaze me.

Stay Amazed

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on November 5, 2019, Linda passed away. Linda’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Have you ever changed your treatment regimen because you were experiencing side effects?