There are so so many articles around about what not to say to someone with a terminal (or as I prefer incurable as we are all terminal) diagnosis. Most of them are somewhat precious and consequently annoy me. For someone who used to thrive on drama I find the best way through this for me is undoubtedly pragmatism and realistic optimism. 

So I thought I’d write a list of the best things people have said to me. These are all underpinned by the guiding principle “comfort in, dump out”. This comes from a great article from which I’ve included an excerpt below:

“Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. 

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it.”


1. I’m so sorry this has happened to you. 

My friend Brigid said this to me and it is the most perfect thing ever said on the topic. Short and sweet. 

2. You’re brave and tough and strong. 

For someone who has never felt tough or brave or strong until cancer this has been very powerful. I’m proud of how I’m handling this on the most part. I’m very aware my excellent family, friends and hospital have a big role to play in this but some of it is me. There are two quotes that loom large for me on this. My beloved grandma Betty used to call me “Dear Heart” so when I saw CS Lewis’ quote I could not forget it.  

The other is the poem Invictus, which would never have appealed to me pre-cancer.   

3. Gossip

And other forms of normality. Such a blessing. I’m still me. If anything I’m more me as I’ve got more time to read and think. I am an enthusiast and thrive on your lives, politics and work gossip.  Send me your best!

4. Random Cancer cures

Some people with cancer hate getting these. They don’t bother me. In fact I find them quite interesting and love the spirit with which they were sent to me. 

5. If you’re completely stuck “You are prayed for/ thought of etc”.

It’s lonely. And it’s comforting to think that people are aware of me and hoping for the best. Ultimately it’s all that needs to be said. 

4 thoughts on “Words

  1. I prefer to not sugar coat things, or offer platitudes.
    I like a simple “that’s shit, mate” or something along those lines…..or hugs!
    Is that ok for you?


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