Things to Say When a Child Is Diagnosed with Cancer

Things appropriate to say when a child has been diagnosed with cancer:

  • "I am so sorry."
  • "I didn't call earlier because I didn't know what to say."
  • "Our family would like to do your yard work (or whatever). It would make us feel as if we were helping in a small way."
  • "We want to clean your house for you once a week. What day would be convenient?"
  • "Would it help if we took your dog (or whatever)? We would love to do it."
  • "I walk my dog 3 times a day. May I walk yours, too?"
  • "The church (neighborhood, street whatever) is setting up a system to deliver meals to your house. When is the best time to drop them off?"
  • "I will take care of Jimmy whenever you need to take John to the hospital. Call us anytime, day or night, and we will come pick him up."

Things NOT to say or do when a child has been diagnosed with cancer:

  • "God only gives people what they can handle."
    Some people cannot handle the stress of childhood cancer.

  • "I know just how you feel."
    Unless you have a child with cancer you simply don’t know.

  • "They are doing such wonderful things to save children with cancer these days."
    Even if prognosis is good, what the parents and child is going through is far from wonderful.

  • "Well, we are all going to die one day."
    While true, parents of a sick child don't need to be reminded of this fact.

  • "It's God's will."
    This is just not a helpful thing to hear.

  • "At least you have other kids" or "Thank goodness you are still young enough to have other kids."
    A child cannot be replaced.

  • "Let us know if there is anything we can do."
    It is far better to make a specific suggestion.

  • Do not make personal comments in front of the child like "When will her hair grow back?" "She's lost so much weight" or "She looks pale."

  • Do not do things that require the parents of the sick child to support you such as calling up and crying a lot.

  • Do not always talk about cancer. Normal conversations are a welcomed break.
  • Don't ask "What if?" questions such as, "What if he can't go to school?" "What if the insurance won't cover this?" "What if she dies?" The present is really all these parents can deal with.

Stories of children with cancer you know who have survived and are doing well are welcomed. Stories of those who have died or have long-term side effects should not be shared.

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