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VIDEO: How Do You Talk to a Cancer Patient?

Robyn Openshaw, MSW - Apr 15, 2013 - This Post May Contain Affiliate Links

You can read this content about how to talk to and support a cancer patient, below–or watch it on my video here!

How to Talk to a Cancer Patient

I’ve spent a ton of time lately with cancer patients. Especially Stage 4 patients. That’s MOSTLY who ends up in the holistic healing centers around the world I’ve been traveling to.

I met Debbie from Canada at my most recent clinic, who had her ovarian cancer recur over and over, and went back for FOUR rounds of chemotherapy. Also a hysterectomy.

I’ve not often seen a person more ill. Gaunt, on oxygen, barely able to speak, wheelchair-bound, cancer in her lungs now. She had just arrived. Her husband was very emotional. These people had been through hell. I met with her at a clinic in Mexico, along with all the other patients and their families. I learned she passed away a few weeks later.

I wish that more people turned to holistic treatments–which are more powerful and effective than you think–first rather than last.

I’ve met tons of cancer patients and lately my question to them has been, “How do people treat you? How do you feel about it? And how would you LIKE people to treat you?” Here’s the consensus, not only from the group of patients in Mexico, but in my recent tour in Europe as well:


  1. Avoid me.
  2. Make that pity face and talk in that pity voice: “Hiiiiiii! How aaaaare you?” Tipping your head to the side, conjuring that sad look…..hopefully you know what I’m talking about. I made the video just to show it you, because it’s impossible to write. Cancer patients SHOWED it to me.
  3. Talk about negative outcomes of other people you’ve “lost” with that type of cancer or cancer in general.


  1. Be around me. Act  normal. Talk about normal stuff.
  2. Laugh with me.
  3. Tell me POSITIVE things.
  4. If you’re unsure, ASK me how to interact with me.

I heard those answers over and over. I think you can take them to the bank. Cancer survivors, feel free to chime in.

Read next: 6 Things Every Woman Should Know About Breast Cancer

Robyn Openshaw, the Green Smoothie Girl


Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the bestselling author of The Green Smoothies Diet, 12 Steps to Whole Foods, and 2017’s #1 Amazon Bestseller and USA Today Bestseller, Vibe. Learn more about how to make the journey painless, from the nutrient-scarce Standard American Diet, to a whole-foods diet, in her free video masterclass 12 Steps to Whole Foods.

Posted in: Videos

4 thoughts on “VIDEO: How Do You Talk to a Cancer Patient?”

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  1. I’m a cancer center nurse manager of 2 clinics. I am very conflicted over this and my hands are tied. I cannot give the type of counseling I would love to give them. What I’m going to do very soon, is make a change in what I am doing. I’m moving forward with my wellness business, and not be in this position to know truth, but not be able to share it. I appreciate your work and have for a very long time! I just saw that you have an affiliate program. I LOVE your 12 Steps to Whole Foods program and I’m glad to now be able to share it. I wanted to create something like this myself, but now I don’t have to invent the wheel. I’m going to create a “cancer patient” section on my website…

  2. Bethany says:

    What a timely post! We just found out my sister-in-law has had her cancer come back. She had her thyroid removed about two years ago, and did a radioactive iodine treatment. I’d love to send her to read all of Robyn’s posts about cancer, I’m just trying to figure out the most tactful way to suggest it. She already eats fairly healthy, so I’m hoping she might be open to alternative treatments for cancer.

  3. Kristin says:

    Hi Robyn,
    Your advise is right on! You’re so great. The “pity” face/ talk can feel patronizing. I remember clearly one day thinking ‘I just want to laugh’. I just want to hear a funny story from someone’s day, a funny memory retold, or to receive a funny card. What I wanted was to belly laugh and feel light…… I needed positive energy!! I didnt want people to avoid my cancer, but I didn’t want them to dwell on it either. I was still a woman, a mom, a friend, a person with a life!! I was still alive & wanted others to believe & contribute to it. It’s so hard. I’m sure all patients are different, but I’m comforted that what you have come to is so in line w/ how I felt. God Bless everyone who is dealing with cancer…. Whether you are the one or the loved ones.
    Peace, Strength, Love, Kristin

  4. Brigitte says:

    I am on my own Cancer journey. Walked away from Chemo and Radiaton etc. 6 years ago, after a biopsy that took me from stage 1 to stage 3 (don’t tell me biopsies don’t spread cancer). The surgeon who did the biopsy on my small stage 1 lump, said, while chuckling, “your tumor was so fully encased it took me three tries to bust into it”… gasp! A few weeks later when I had a lumpectomy… it was all over my breast and in my lymph nodes… No clean margins… stage 3. The “standard protocol” of more surgery, chemo, radiation, tomoxofen etc. was the next step.. “No thanks” I started going the alternative route… High dose Vitamin C IV’s, had all my fillings, root canals and cavitations removed, heavy metal detox etc. etc. etc.

    One other thing I HATE… that you did not mention GSG… is the opposite of the horror stories of the people who have died (and which is much more common) is everyone acting like all I had was a cold and now I am over it, the stories (of the few) who had cancer and are now 25 years cancer free… and them telling you to have a positive attitude, if you are anything but over the moon.

    We are all in the same boat…10 out of 10 people die… so what is important is how you LIVE!!!

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