Before you say anything to someone coping with cancer it's important you ask yourself a few important questions. Here's a few:
1. What do I want to happen after I share my reaction?
2. Who is it that needs to feel better, me, the person coping with cancer, or both of us?
3. Do I want to hear more of what's going on or am I so uncomfortable I want to say something and leave?
To those who fall into the category of needing to feel better yourself, or wanting to say something to make the person coping with cancer feel better the chances are whatever your going to say will have the opposite effect on those coping with cancer. For example, if you said "My brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he did just fine." That comment might reassure you, but it offers next to nothing of reassurance to a man diagnosed with prostate cancer.
As I was informing friends and family that I had cancer, I didn't want to hear a story about someone else who had cancer, I needed people to listen to my situation. The bottom line for those who need feel better or who feel obligated to make the person with cancer feel better, say as little as possible and avoid open ended questions. You have a high risk of saying things that will do the opposite of what you intend. In your effort to make things better, you'll probably make things worse. Here are some suggestions of things you might say:
1. I'm sorry to hear that.
3. That sinks
4. How awful
To those who posses good listening skills and have a genuine interest in hearing how someone is doing, open ended questions will accomplish this goal:
1. How are you doing?
2. How are you feeling?
3. What was it like for you to receive the news?
4. Is there something I can do that would be helpful to you?
5. How's your partner taking the news?
6. Would you be interested in hearing about my experiences with prostate cancer?
Here's a suggestion I think would benefit anyone who is serious about wanting to say and/or do the right things. Take time and read about this topic. If you google things to say to someone with cancer, you'll get many great articles which discuss this issue. Here's a few to get you started. If you are willing to take the time to read and to learn about what to say and do when someone is coping with cancer, it's highly likely the things you'll say and do will be remembered for a very long time and greatly appreciated
There are articles you can read which will help you to be helpful:
Useful Things to Say & To Do
Ways to respond
Supporting Someone With Cancer
Ten Things You Can Do
Please share your thoughts, experiences, and suggestions as well.