Jul 20, 2021 11:00:00 AM

Addressing Insensitive Comments as Parents of a Child with Cancer

Whenever you or your family experiences a medical crisis, you’re more than likely going to get your fair share of rude, invasive, or insensitive questions and comments from both strangers and friends.

This can be tough to handle, as you will no doubt feel protective of your child — and your ability to get them the best care and treatment.

Keep in mind: people who say insensitive things are probably not trying to hurt your feelings. 

Oftentimes, these questions and comments are a result of their anxieties surrounding cancer. They might have been trying to lighten the mood and cheer you up, not understanding how inappropriate their comment seems. Others might be trying to empathize but come up short on the delivery.

How you respond to these people comes down to remembering that their intentions are likely good; not malicious. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for yourself and your family when lines are crossed.

Here are some tips for handling rude, insensitive, or invasive questions and comments:


Handling 4 Types of Rude Comments & Questions

Type: Botched Empathy

Example: “I know someone who had the same cancer. They died.”

People who might be trying to empathize may inadvertently bring up some of your greatest fears. In relaying that they “know what you’re going through,” they may bring up the painful experiences of people they know. 

This, in turn, makes you think of your own child’s struggles and the worst possible outcomes. Respond by assuring them that your child is receiving the best care and that you’re hoping for the best. It’s okay to be a little aggressive — ask them that they not mention someone else’s death like that, as it only makes you worry.

Type: Unsolicited Advice

Example: “Have you tried [insert alternative treatment here]?”

Well-meaning individuals like to give bad advice. Whether they’re suggesting essential oils or some other unproven treatment outside of your child’s current care plan, you are entirely within your right to shut them down. You do not have to pretend to consider these “cures.”

Simply tell them that your child’s doctor has not recommended their suggestion and that you are receiving the best treatment for your child based on their care team’s recommendations. No one has a right to tell you how to treat your child’s cancer except their care team!

Type: Way Too Personal

Example: “What’s their prognosis?”

People are nosy. They often don’t think about how uncomfortable some questions can be for you to answer. Don’t feel as though you need to indulge invasive questions with an answer. If you don’t want to talk about it, tell them as much. “I would prefer not to talk about that,” is an easy out. If they don’t respect that request, you can be more firm. 

It’s no one else’s business but yours and your family’s. 

Type: The Comedian

Example: “At least they’ll have an excuse to get out of gym class!”

Because people know that you’re struggling with a lot of stress and worry during this time in your life, they might attempt to make light of the situation. It’s never to diminish your child’s experience, but it is a poor attempt to get you to “look on the bright side.”

There aren’t bright sides to cancer. If someone makes a comment that starts with “at least…,” followed by something insignificant that your child can or can’t do because of cancer, it can be hurtful. In matters as serious as cancer, who cares about getting out of gym class? You know that your child would want nothing more than to be able to run and play with their friends at school.

How you respond to this depends on how inappropriate the comment is, but don’t fear being firm. 

You can express that no, your child would much rather be healthy and not be going through cancer treatment. You can say “why would you say that to me?” to help wake them up to how uncalled for their comment was.


Ultimately, recognize that you, as the parent of a child with cancer, are well within your rights to protect the mental and emotional wellbeing of your family. You can shut down rude and unsolicited comments without fear of being “rude.” 

If anything, you may find out who should — and who shouldn’t — surround your family during these trying times.

When we have supportive, loving communities surrounding our children, we can kick cancer!


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