5 things not to say to the seriously ill

In all fairness to addressing health issues, we must also address issues about illness. Illnesses will happen, it is a part of life. Some will be fortunate to never have to face a serious illness and unfortunately many of us will. One in seven Americans will face cancer. Others will face heart disease, auto immune diseases and neurological disorders. That being said, we as human beings must find a way to address one another that avoids shaming or hurting those who are ill while simultaneously trying to uplift a person’s spirits as they battle through what is assuredly an extremely difficult time in their life. That being said here are 5 things to avoid saying to someone battling a serious illness:

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[Photo Cred: The Silver Pen]

“My friend/co-worker/relative had it. They died.”

We know you mean well and are trying to relate to us, but telling us you know someone who died of the illness we’re battling only frightens us more. We don’t want to think about dying when we’re trying so hard to live. Please avoid doing this at all costs.

“I’m scared. This is too hard for me. I can’t handle it.”

Yes, this may be scary or hard for you, but please understand that it is much harder and scarier for us.  We are doing our best to hold ourselves together and fight our illness and we can’t do that and try to help you get through our illness too.

“I don’t know what to say to you.”

Despite our illness, we have not changed as people. We want to be treated and spoken to like we are normal human beings (because we are). Talk to us about love, life, family, relationships, etc. Better yet, make us laugh. Laughing always makes us feel better.

“What does it feel like? How did you get it? What is the survival rate?”

Unless we bring up our illness and want to talk about it, please don’t’ ask us about it. We know you want to try to understand, but there is no way to describe to you some of our physical and psychological symptoms and there are times when we are too emotional and just don’t want to talk about it.

“Oh you’re going to be ok. Did I tell you about my problems?”

This is not the time for the “Who has it worse” game. Please do not dismiss our illness as something minor in comparison to your issues. We are fighting for our lives, please believe you do not have it worse than we do right now.


Remember, we are battling an illness but we are not defined by that illness. Don’t feel the need to treat us like we are a fragile piece of glass. At the same time, please be tactful on things you say. If there is a question in your mind about whether you should or should not say something, don’t say it. This is a very difficult time in our lives and we need friends and loved ones to be supportive and nurturing.

Remember we all need each other on this planet. Only together can we overcome all the obstacles life is going to throw at us.



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