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Things that won't help

Understanding the things that aren’t helpful can give you more confidence to talk with your colleague about their diagnosis.

When speaking with your colleague, try to avoid:

  • telling them they will be fine – it can seem like you’re downplaying the seriousness of the situation
  • saying they are strong – this can make them feel like they have to be brave all the time
  • discussing the latest cure or treatment you’ve heard about
  • expressing your own fears or worries – remember this is about them, not you
  • talking about other people with cancer
  • suggesting lifestyle changes e.g. diet, physical activity
  • clichés e.g. ‘There must be a reason for this’, ‘Everything will be fine’ or ‘You look great’
  • using the phrase ‘Be positive’
  • making assumptions about what they can and can’t do
  • asking too many questions or avoiding the person altogether
  • asking inappropriate questions such as ‘Were you a smoker?’ or ‘Is it in your family?’
  • saying, ‘It’s great it’s all over’ after their treatment finishes – they will still require support after treatment.
Some friends suggested that my breast cancer was caused by the lifestyle I had been leading in the past few years. This was really upsetting – and really unhelpful!

Useful information

For further information about supporting your colleague the following resources may be helpful: