The Conversation Not to Have With a Cancer Patient

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Since my breast cancer diagnosis, dozens of people have shared their death-by-cancer stories with me.

It is such a bizarre phenomen.

I was diagnosed with a disease that kills people. I know this. I think about it daily. Being reminded every time I go out in public is tough for me. But alas, it happens. A lot.

It’s hard for me to hear about

  • Your uncle who died from prostate cancer
  • Your mom who fought breast cancer for 10 years before it took her life
  • Your best friend from college whom you watched wither away at age 20
  • Your nephew’s sister’s cousin’s friend who left 5 kids and a husband behind when she “lost her battle”

It takes me about .5 seconds after waking up in the morning to remember where I am and what cancer has done to my body. Stories of others’ grief are not helpful. In fact, what they do is flip this whole thing upside down and put me in the position of comforter. Right now, I just don’t have it in me to be that person. (Come back next year at this time, and I might be able to give you a pep talk.)

What I do want to hear is your success stories.

Tell me about

  • Your mom who beat cancer 20 years ago and is around to see her grandsons play football
  • Your niece who just made it to the 5-year milestone
  • Your brother who had a tumor removed in high school and went on to become an engineer
  • Your personal experience of overcoming breast (or any other type) of cancer

I realize the word CANCER makes people feel weird and uncomfortable. And when something makes people feel weird and uncomfortable they sometimes say things they wouldn’t otherwise say. For the most part, I am able to extend grace and understanding when people say things I don’t want to hear. I try to remind myself that before cancer entered my life it weirded me out too, and I certainly said more than one dumb thing to someone without even realizing it.

If you are thinking “Oh crap, I did this to Kim.” Please don’t. There’s a good chance I don’t even remember our specific conversation, because, like I said, it happens all the time.

Instead, please accept these words as a teaching moment from someone who was forced against her will onto the other side.

Cancer has changed my life for sure, and I am happy to talk about it with you. I just don’t want to talk about all the people who died.

Plus, I am equally happy to skirt the cancer topic altogether and talk about the weather or the latest ISU game.

Speaking of ISU…Sweet 16! Go State!



By KimHarms

Kim Harms is an author, speaker, and part-time library assistant with two decades of freelance writing experience. She has a degree in English from Iowa State University. She and her husband Corey have three super-awesome sons and one crazy dog. A two-time breast cancer survivor, her first book, Life Reconstructed: Navigating the World of Mastectomies and Breast Reconstruction (Familius), is a guide for women walking the breast cancer road. She is currently working on her second book, a devotional for women going through breast cancer.


  1. Just read your post! Love it! My dad is a 6 year survivor of Lymphoma and is retired from the real “work world” but works on hard on his fishing! My mother-in-law is an 11 year stage 4 breast cancer survivor! You got this! When one day at time is too much, take one breath at a time!
    Fight the fight!
    Kelli Payne

  2. Thanks again Kim, for being honest and saying what most of us want to, but don’t. Your journey is unlike anyone else’s and is still VERY fresh. Praying you can continue to show grace to the dumb things people say. Love you.

  3. I was diagnosed with rectosigmoid cancer after a routine colonoscopy on September 17th, 2015.. No symptoms. I’m a certified fitness professional. Healthy, but blindsided. 62 days later I had my surgery. There is no longer cancer present in my body. I’m moving on!!! Like you, I don’t mind talking about it, but I loathe the talking about dead from colon cancer Auntie Florence….

  4. Perhaps, you would love to hear about my sister in law…somewhere in her 30s she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, and after several battles with it, she died at over 80. She lived a wonderful life…she got to all of her granddaughters high school graduations. She was so proud of those four grand daughters and life revolved around young Samuel her only grandson! She had so many pleasures….did I say she was 79 when she traveled to Norway. Live.Each.Day. At his side….I know you do!

  5. I love this post. I’m with you, Kim. Hearing about how much more cancer sucks is the last thing I want to hear.
    I tell people, at this time my cancer is not life threatening- it’s life altering.

  6. Just saw your post and am glad to have read it. I am a 7 year uterine cancer survivor. There is light at the end of the tunnel of all the things we go through. Don’t feel you are alone, I hate the same cancer conversations, once I was diagnosed I felt like all I saw on tv was cancer commercials…I would have to change the channel could not stand to watch or listen. People don’t have any idea how it changes us nor what we go through externally as well as internally. From the moment I get up it does not take me a millisecond to be grateful I can get up, go to the gym and move on with life. I thank God daily for my blessings and my miracle. There are many more survival stories than fateful ones, but for some reason folks want to talk about the worst. Fight the fight and you WILL come through the other side and I will see another post of your survival in the future and your comment for someone else to encourage and truth telling of survival! God bless, God is good and Miracles are REAL!!

    1. You are so right. I see cancer everywhere now. Even a couple of the novels I’ve read in my recovery have had characters with cancer. It’s like once you are in it, you can’t get away from it. But God is good. I do believe that…even on the days that I spend fighting self pity and frustration. Thanks of taking the time to share with me.

  7. It is sad but true. I heard many of the same stories after my diagnosis. It was hard to hear because it immediately rattled me and made me question what my fate would be. But God doesn’t ask me to look down that path and concern myself with the “what if’s”. I had to continually trust him in the now. I am a survivor and God has been gracious to me. I honestly didn’t tell a ton of people about my diagnosis. However I still got the comments and the opinions … what essential oils I should use to prevent cancer, how they were envious of my perky new reconstructed breasts. It has taught me what not to say to others! People mean well but sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” would be so much better.
    Numbers 6:24-26 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

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