Cancer… What do you say?

What do you say to someone who has cancer?

It is so hard to find the right words to say to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. I can’t tell you what to say, but I can tell you the nicest thing that someone said to me when I was sick.


I was holed up in a hotel room, getting ready for my Aunt’s wedding the next day. My hair had just started falling out and I was informed after two rounds of chemotherapy, that my diagnosis was incorrect. It was actually a more aggressive cancer, which meant a more aggressive treatment to kill it. I tried to stay positive, I really did, but there are down moments. Of course, there are down moments. This was my lowest point after my diagnosis.

Ann’s Phone Call

It was at this moment that I missed a phone call from my best friend Ann. I wiped away my tears and listened to her voicemail.

Joy, I just don’t know how one person can handle all of the pain you are going through. So, I’ve decided that if you can send me some of your pain, if we can split it up between the two of us, it would be easier for you. So, if you wouldn’t mind, please send me your pain. I’ll be waiting. I love you.

I don’t know how she knew to say the perfect thing at the perfect moment to me, but she did. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Of course, I couldn’t send her my pain, but just knowing that I had a friend who was willing to take it from me meant so much. The fact that she thought about this and sincerely wanted to take my pain is just unbelievable.

That’s what you will find out about cancer, it can bring out different things in different people. I was lucky enough to have a best friend with a pure heart who wanted to walk through the fire with me. For that, I will be eternally grateful.


Cancer… what do you say? I have no idea, but I do know that when someone is present to listen, to watch movies with, to just be there with them… it means everything. If they are ever really down, maybe you can offer to take their pain and let them know you will be waiting.


Joy Soto
Joy Soto
Joy is a former dolphin trainer, award-winning documentary filmmaker, founder of the annual Children’s Hospital Dolphin Interaction Program at SeaWorld San Diego, and a TEDx speaker. When she was 25 years old she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and treated at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. During this time she produced and directed a documentary on her battle with cancer, entitled “Just One Year – A story of triumph over cancer.” Joy is passionate about making a difference in people’s lives and sharing what she has learned along the way.

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  1. We all feel confused, perhaps even paralyzed, when a loved one receives a bad news like that. We have the feeling that we don’t know what to say and do. And even worse, we think there are things we should say or should do, which – automatically – could make it easier for the sick person. Sick people need a love that at the same time does not suffocate them and make them feel dependent. Above all they need understanding and stimuli to keep their dignity intact, but also encouragement to face even the most advanced phase of the disease with a serene spirit.
    There are no magic formulas, phrases or approaches that represent ‘the right thing’ to say or do in all circumstances and in all situations. If we really want to be supportive, we must know that the desire to help is the indispensable ingredient to find the personal recipe and that there is no perfect script valid for everyone.
    It’s true, most of us don’t know what to say. But what matters is not what we say but how we listen.

  2. Joy, at my age the incidence of people faced with cancer is growing. I have NEVER had a clue about what to say. I am well aware “I’m sorry” is not enough, but it was the only thing I have been able to say. Then the “If there is anything I can do” lame statement. Your article offered a powerful alternative. Offering to share some of the pain, physical pain and emotional pain, has got to be a good offering to those who are dealing with critical illness. I will remember this article in the future. I thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Thank you Kate. It’s awful how many people have to go through this. I still hold out hope that they will find a cure. My friend, Ann, is the kindest person I know and she just happened to call during my hardest time and her heartfelt message meant so much to me. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

  3. Welcome Joy Soto ! Your words are a blessing. As are you. My mother and sisters are breast cancer survivors.. I’m another kind of survivor… but the essence is.. the words of comfort from a friend will also show in their actions. Thank you so much for sharing here today… for some reason I couldn’t comment on the site…it kept re loading.. probably me…
    Thank you Dennis J. Pitocco for this great introduction and new member to BIZCATALYST 360° & 360° NATION 🙏🙏🙏 Scratch that. It worked now! 🙏

    • Hi! I just read your comment on LinkedIn. I’m glad you were able to get it to work. Thank you for your kind words. Yes, someone’s kindness will show in their actions. I absolutely experienced that.

    • Hi Kimberly! I’m so glad I joined the BizCat family too! I woke up this morning to an amazing response that I wasn’t expecting at all. Thank you for taking time to read my article. This really is a great community!