What Do We say to A Woman With Breast Cancer?

Being October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am going to share what I read in an article from Good Housekeeping written by Tula Karras. I have the privilege to meet and treat hundreds of courageous women confronting breast cancer.  This is why I founded the Alabama Breast Cancer Cooperative. I have devised ways to compassionately and empathetically address what these amazing women endure. My perspective is different and I always listen out to what others say to them in attempts to support them. Some are brilliant and some are not so helpful. This article provides good insight in what to say, but, more importantly, what not to say. I will list the 15 things Tula Karras advises NOT to say.

  • “You’re going to be fine”
  • “Everything happens for a reason”
  • “You don’t look sick, you look great”
  • ” My brother’s friend had breast cancer, here’s what happened to her” (one of my favorites)
  • “I hate my large breasts, I want to get rid of them”
  • ‘How did they find it, what stage is it?”
  • ” Can I do anything for you?”
  • ” You’re a badass, you’ll kick cancer!”
  • ” We can all be hit by a bus tomorrow”
  • ‘Stay positive”
  • ” I’m praying for you, miracles do happen”
  • ” At least you don’t have kids to worry about”
  • “at least you have your hair”
  • ” have you tried cutting out sugar”
  • ‘That’s why I do not use anti-perspirant”


You can see some a fairly obvious and some are a bit “out there”, but this is a good reference to learn to be more sensitive to these women and be more supportive to them. I tell my patients that everyone is trying to help and be supportive, they are well intentioned but are not well versed in this delicate communication. I tell them to judge the source and keep “blinders on” to stay focused on their decision making and enduring their therapies.

As Tula Karras states the one thing to say to these women is ” How are you feeling today?” This allows them to answer they are fine and gives them the choice to continue the discussion, or to change the subject. It also shows you are being supportive and not avoiding the issue.

It’s not only October, women battle breast cancer every da,y of the year, and we all need to know how to be compassionate and empathetic to them. saying the right things is a great way to greet them.


Michael S. Beckenstein, M.D. is a Birmingham, Alabama plastic surgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction following mastectomy and lumpectomy.

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