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May 15, 2020

What To Say In The Face of A Cancer Diagnosis (+A Free Cancer Diagnosis Resource)

I've written here and there about my dad's battle with lung cancer, and more recently, my mom's melanoma diagnosis.  I try not to flood my blog with the day-in and day-out of having a loved one battle cancer.  I know that so many of you are praying for both of my parents, and I'm so grateful for that, but it's not something I always like to talk about in such a public forum, and I don't think it's something that my parents would want to see my blog be focused on.

The past two years have been some of the hardest in my life.  I've seen both of my parents come to their knees at the foot of the cross (and I've been with them), praying for healing on a daily basis.  I've seen my dad not feel well, and I've seen him ride 150 miles on his bike in two days.  It's a roller coaster ride and not one that I would wish on anyone.

However, I can tell you two things:  1) your prayers and the prayers of our church family have completely sustained us over these last two years and 2) the support, encouragement, and advice from those who have gone before us in this walk have been invaluable.

I know that talking to someone who has a cancer diagnosis or who is the caretaker of someone with a cancer diagnosis isn't easy.  I can tell that it isn't from the way that some people stumble over their words or just don't reach out at all.  I get it.  It's uncomfortable.  You're probably wondering about the hard things, like prognosis and will he lose his hair with the chemo treatments and well if that last scan looked good, then why isn't he feeling well?  Here's a secret:  we wonder too sometimes.  If you've read any of my posts about my parents' walks with cancer, you know that we wonder, but we believe.  We believe in total and complete healing and a God who has already gone before us.

And we also believe in advocating and educating.  If you know someone with a cancer diagnosis, then here are a few little tips:

1 // Don't ignore it, but don't make it the focus of every conversation.  Knowing that you care enough to ask is touching, but it's important that cancer doesn't become the person's identity.

2 // Watch your words.  I can't tell you how many people have told me stories about so-and-so who had cancer and lost their battle, or who said my dad just needed to repent of his sins or pray harder for healing (um, not how healing works!), or the guy that told my dad that if it was stage IV then that's basically a death sentence.  People either mean well or they just don't think before they speak.  Don't be one of those people.  Put yourself in your friend's shoes and think "would this be an encouraging, life-giving thing to hear if I was going through a cancer diagnosis?"  If the answer is "no", then keep it to yourself.

3 // Ask how you can help, and offer suggestions.  For example:  you don't have to take on every task or chore that the person has, but simply offer to watch their kids or bring them a meal, or maybe even cut their grass.  They might say no at first, but keep asking.

4 // Be there.  It's crazy how people disappear when you are facing a serious illness, so don't disappear.  Even if the person pushes you away or withdraws.  Actually, especially in those two cases.  That's probably a sign that they need you more than they want to admit.

5 // No matter how recently the person has been diagnosed, they are a survivor.  You learn a lot of terminology pretty quickly when facing a cancer diagnosis, but one of my favorite terms has always been "survivor."  No matter where someone is in their fight, whether they were diagnosed yesterday or they've been in remission for a decade, they are a cancer survivor.

Allstate has put together a free companion guide to the book, The Silver Lining.  The companion guide is available as an instant download ebook, which you can get here, and I can't encourage you enough to download it, read it, and share it with anyone who might be facing cancer, but more specifically, breast cancer, as that is what the author was diagnosed with.  With over 250,000 people diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. each year, finding advice and encouragement from other survivors is key to keeping a positive attitude.

Allstate created the Silver Lining Companion Guide as a way to offer practical tips, important information, and inspiration to the person walking through a breast cancer diagnosis.  Personally, I also found much of it to be true of other cancer battles as well.  The guide is available in English and Spanish, as well as in print at select Allstate agencies nationwide.


I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Betsy. You are a strong woman with a beautiful heart. God is working up some powerful testimonies in your family. He will be glorified. Thanks for your faith.

  2. My mom celebrated her one-year anniversary as a cancer survivor yesterday. She's throwing a party tomorrow with cupcakes and sparklers. :) My twin brother has been a cancer survivor for about three years now. I agree so much with what you've written here!

  3. beautiful betsy... and continuous prayers to you all. ♥ great advice - thank you for sharing.

  4. oh girl, you are speaking to my heart today. My dad has been in and out of remission for the past 6 years with bone marrow cancer. Its a terrifying journey. Sometimes I swear I pray for the exact same thing every night, but then those fantastic days roll around and make it all worth it. From what you wrote, your family seems like some incredible fighters to battle all of this together. Praying for all of you in this journey.

  5. This is so good, Betsy! I love that you are sharing about your experience and helping others who might need these tips. I especially agree with not disappearing! Thanks for the practical ideas and tips.

  6. What a great post. SO often I think people won't acknowledge it and the cancer becomes the white elephant in the middle of the room. They feel awkward and unsure of what to say. These tips are wonderful. As for the death sentence guy? And repenting for your sins? C'mon. That's just wrong.

  7. I loved that you shared this, Betsy! More people in this world need to hear these messages. So many people come up to me and think I have Cancer, which I typically don't mind because it is an easy mistake. It breaks my heart however when they share of the journeys of others in their life and aren't encouraging of "my journey" they think I am on. Still praying for you and your parents! I hope these next few months are so life giving with the weddings in your family!

  8. I've wondered if you ever get those types of reactions...and yeah, people mean well, but I don't think they often really think about the story they're about to tell or words they're about so say! My dad had a few appointments yesterday focused on helping to combat his fatigue, so I'm hoping we're getting him in shape to enjoy the summer and the weddings!

  9. Thanks Anne! It can be hard for people to know what to say...I totally get it. And I know....people just don't think :(

  10. Yay! That's awesome, and congrats to both of them! We are celebrating with your mom today! :)

  11. Thanks so much for that encouragement Holly! We are leaning on God's promises and knowing that He has a plan to use this for His glory!

  12. Thanks Jenna...it's not really an easy thing for me to talk about, but the resource from Allstate is such a good one so I thought it might be time to share my heart on this stuff! People just don't know what to say to our family sometimes, and I get that it's hard!

  13. I'm so sorry Elizabeth. I wish that no one had to go through this! If you ever need an ear, feel free to be in touch! ([email protected])
    I'll definitely be praying for your day...I get that feeling...I've been praying the same prayers for two years now. And yes, those moments when he feels good and life feels "normal" again make it so worth it!

  14. Oh yes, all the time. I know they mean well, but it puts me in a really uncomfortable situation. Great news for your dad! This family will be so significant to your family, I am excited for you!


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