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Good Intentions Sometimes Cause The Most Pain: What NOT to Say to a Victim of Breast Cancer

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The Flower Factory family considers ourselves to be in the communication business. All too often a well meant word or an innocent question can cause a lot of pain and thinking ahead can avoid a lot of unintentional hurt. It is very difficult to know just what to say and how best to support someone with breast cancer.

October is Breast Cancer awareness month and The Flower Factory recommends some helpful tips you may want to remember and a few phrases you may want to avoid.

The Flower Factory Tarzana, CA

“My Family Member/Friend had breast cancer.”

While most people know someone who has had cancer, many of the experiences they had may not at all be similar or common to the person you are speaking with. Each patient will have their own dynamic battle to conquer, so try not to relate to the negatives or positives of someone else’s condition.

“Will you lose your hair?”

This is very touchy as hair has long been tied to a woman’s femininity, and to think she may lose it can be tough to hear. Breast cancer survivor Joan Lunden put it best when she said “I’m not going to lie: Losing your hair is really weird. Hair is so part and parcel to your looks that when you take it away, it’s like someone drew a picture of you and they erased the hair. It’s still you — it just doesn’t look like you.” When it comes to hair it may be best not to ask the question at all.

“What stage are you in?”

The question is understandable if you are a friend or family member. If it’s someone you haven’t known long, it’s best not to ask. In reference to the question, consider its meaning to her. It could be interpreted as ‘how close are you to death?’ and not every woman with breast cancer will want to talk about their progression. It would be better to ask them how they are doing today instead.

“Are you sure that’s the best treatment option?”

When first diagnosed, sometimes family members feel they need to jump in and take control, which can include making decisions on how their loved one should be treated or how they should take their medication. With breast cancer the patient needs to be in control. In most cases, no matter what the treatment, your loved one will ultimately know which direction or path is best for her.

“Well it could be worse.”

Although breast cancer may not progress as fast as other forms of cancer that does not mean it is less serious. Breast cancer is still a life-threatening situation, and with cancer there really isn’t one that is better to endure than another. Saying something like ‘good thing they found it’ or ‘I’m praying for you’ can be a much better statement instead.

“Everything will be fine”

Reassurance is confusing as many cancer patients have at least a year of treatment ahead of them. Every stage of breast cancer has its own form of treatment. Early stages of breast cancer may involve having a lump removed, while later stages may require chemotherapy and or surgery. Not every patients experience will be smooth, so it’s important to show support of her condition and the struggle she’s about to face. Simply telling her to ‘be positive’ may be perceived as a command, and with the many worries that come with breast cancer, you don’t want her response to be ‘that’s easy for you to say, you’re not sick all day and can’t afford the bills’.


The Flower Factory will be using breast cancer awareness month to urge women to participate in self-examinations and schedule mammograms for early detection. We encourage our friends and family to take extra care to be sensitive to the feelings and sensitivity of their loved ones as they tackle an all too common illness and share your support in a quiet and understanding way. It’s sometimes more helpful to say less- than more.

The Flower Factory Tarzana, CA

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