Ten DOS and DONT’S for “treating” cancer patients

IMG_4302.JPGHave you ever wondered what you should to do when someone you care about has cancer?

Before my leukemia diagnosis my life had not been intimately touched by cancer. I hadn’t watched a friend lose their hair because of chemo, or felt compelled to register myself with a bone marrow registry. I really had no idea how I would help a friend in need — I just knew I would figure it out if and when I needed to.

I’ve learned so much since I began this fight, not the least of which is how difficult it is for people to wrap their heads around this incredibly challenging time in my life. I’ve been blown away by beautiful acts of kindness and support from the most surprising people and places, but also deeply hurt that some of my good friends and extended family members have avoided me like the plague. (like cancer!) It occurred to me that perhaps people just don’t know what to do in the face of cancer.

So I surveyed several of my fellow cancer patients and survivors to create this list of
10 Things to DO and NOT DO for Cancer Patients.

DO reach out! Silence is so painful. 

The worst thing you can do to a cancer patient is avoid them. I know our circumstances can be scary, and if you’ve never been touched by cancer, you may not know what to say. But simple text can mean the world to us. So here are a few suggestions:

  • “I’m thinking of you… but I just don’t know what to say.”
  • “I don’t want to bother you, just wanted you to know you’re in my thoughts.”
  • “No need to reply. I hurt for you. I’m praying for you.”

Depending on the circumstances, we may respond right back. At the very least we’ll be uplifted by your thoughtfulness.

DO share what is going on in your life too.

Cancer patients still care about others. In fact, we feel so isolated from the world and so wrapped up in cancer, it is particularly nice to hear how our family and friends are doing in the real world. It is ok to tell us about your latest job promotion, family challenge etc. It helps us feel like we are staying connected. You might not want to brag about your latest vacation and say how desperately you needed it (haha) or how you’re stressed about fitting into your new jeans. Just talk to us. We know friendship goes both ways. We want to feel needed in your life too.



DO NOT share cancer stories about people who did not make it.

We know you are trying to relate and find common ground to show that you understand what we’re going through, but please talk about ANYTHING BUT another persons death from cancer. Every survivor I asked put this “DO” at the top of their list. So, instead of sharing a sad story, maybe tell us you know all about the cancer fight but leave out the details like “Oh, he didn’t make it to transplant.” Or “He died during transplant.” While you might feel comforted sharing your family’s struggle, those comments only ignite nightmares for us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up crying to Cesar saying “OMG… so and so just told me her father died from AML.. what if i ‘m next? Holy crap!”


DO be concrete about how you want to provide support.

Chances are if you ask us how you can help we won’t tell you straight out. We’ve already burdened so many with our fight, and it’s hard to ask anyone for anything more. This battle also robs some of our independence, suddenly we can’t do the things we used to, and admitting it can be hard. So when you ask “What can I do for you?” it’s likely we will say “Don’t worry, I’m fine.” But the truth is, if we weren’t so embarrassed we’d say:

  • “Would you mind helping me with laundry so I have more time with my son?”
  • “Can you prepare a meal for us because I’m too tired to cook and I can’t eat out because of risk of germs and bacteria?”
  • “My skin is so dry from the chemo. Can you get me some lotion?”

No way we will say this but BELIEVE ME, any of these acts of support mean so much. Maybe you can gently dig around and find out what is truly needed at the moment.

I have been blessed with so many angels who have prayed for me, made a donation, cooked a meal, helped unpack our home because they knew I didn’t have the strength and couldn’t be around dust, cleaned the kitchen so I could have more time with Gabriel. I am so blessed! These people helped me find the courage to be honest about my needs and accept their help. I look forward to paying it forward.

(5) DO try to understand our condition.

Chemo knocks out our immune systems down to nothing. Bacteria or a germ that doesn’t impact you could be a big deal for us. In some cases it cold be deadly. We wear masks to protect ourselves from your germs. We also shouldn’t be around dust, second hand smoke, trash, laundry — anything with potential germs. Of course it’s ok if your child stares and points at us wearing a mask. It’s curiosity. Gabriel would do the same thing. Don’t be embarrassed by it and instead explain to your child that we can’t fight germs and need our masks to protect us.



DO share positive stories and/or funny stories.

Laughter is good medicine. Positive stores are too! That’s why I was inspired to create the ArmorUp for LIFE® Campaign — I want to hear everyone’s success stories.





DO NOT ask what are our chances of survival are.

Just focus on us winning! We don’t want to think about not surviving. When you ask us, the wheels spin in our head and it just starts a wave of anxiety.





DO NOT act scared.

It will make us scared too. There is already so much to be scared about on this journey.






DO share stories of memorable moments news of what is going on in your life.

We may be busy fighting for our lives, but just because we have cancer doesn’t mean we don’t care about your life anymore.  We want to know what’s going on and stay in the loop. Cancer can be so isolating… we need to stay connected.





DO #ArmorUp for LIFE® and be prepared for life.

Let our story inspire you to be prepared for life.  The more fit you, the better prepared you will be for whatever life throws your way.

I promise you, you don’t want to “half fight” for your life, so #ArmorUp for LIFE®; clean up your diet, get exercise, lower the stress levels in your life, surround yourself with positive energy.

Loriana Hernandeza


  1. Jeana Boatright
    November 14, 2014

    Hi Lorianna ! Thank you for posting this ! I have an etiquette business and I say all the time that etiquette is always important – especially when someone is going through an illness or very difficult time. I read something recently that I love. It said to draw a circle with the patient in the middle. Draw another circle with their immediate family members listed. Another and another until you find out where you are in the equation. It suggested that you don’t ask probing questions of anyone in a circle closer to the patient than you but to offer those detailed ways in which you can help. I love that visual. Im so sorry that you are dealing with this. I think if you daily , pray for you and look forward to the good news of great labs. You are helping so many as you fight this yourself. Blessings today and yes ! Take it easy ! I saw you on the news in Austin this am !

  2. Nickie
    November 14, 2014

    Your such an amazing woman!!! I have learned so much through your experiance. Thank you for sharing your journey and being positive through it all. By the way started the 100 day challenge and it feels great!

  3. SheilaCernosek
    November 14, 2014

    I love this.
    I have been touched by my grandsons cancer, and this is so true!! The help my daughter got, was simply amazing..

  4. November 14, 2014

    Love your honesty!! My son is battling leukemia and this also goes for children & families fighting cancer! I’m shocked at how many friends shut you out/ ignore you when when your going through this fight. Thank you for inspiring us!! XOXO Team AJ

  5. jean and jerry Fesler.
    November 14, 2014

    Lorie I think about you every day. and say a prayer for you every night. I don`t write much like you said just don`t know what to say. have a good day free of pain.

  6. November 14, 2014

    I love it. My daughter is currently fighting leukemia as well and everyone one of these top 10 ring true for us as well.

  7. Sheree
    November 15, 2014

    Thank you for this…. My Mom has cancer and this helps…..

  8. Kathleen Shelnutt
    November 15, 2014

    That is awesome thank you for writing it down the ordinary person doesn’t realize what a Cancer patient goes through. My son just went through a battle with cancer and I took him to his treatments most of the time to Chemo and what an eye opener for me, Cancer has no boundaries in ages and as I sat with my son (who is in his 30’s) it amazed me the striking age group and some I met were alone in this fight and my heart broke as we tried to encourage, we met many wonderful people and very brave ones. My son is now Cancer Free which we are so Thankful
    I’m so glad for Cancer research! My dad died when I was 9 (1960) and back then they really didn’t know how to handle it but I’m so glad its saving lives!

  9. KSimmons
    November 16, 2014

    Hi Lorianna, Thank you for this, it has given me the courage to tell you that my husband and I think about you and pray for you daily. (I have hesitated writing to you because of your “celebrity status” and was afraid you would minimize the deep concern we have for you and your family.) Please know that your honesty and openness have made us love you even more. We are just two of your many fans, supporters, and prayer warriors who care so deeply about your fight.

  10. Judy
    November 17, 2014

    Thank you so much for sharing this! My husband is fighting colon cancer right now and this is GREAT advice for anyone that is dealing with an illness. Perfect! Prayers to you and thank you again for sharing.

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