Handling Negative Comments During Lung Cancer Treatment

Coping With the Stupid Things People Say With Lung Cancer

man looking down his nose at someone
How can you cope with negative comments when you have lung cancer?. istockphoto.com

Insensitive Comments When You Have Lung Cancer are Common

People can make insensitive comments to anyone suffering from an illness, but the stigma of lung cancer opens an extra door of vulnerability for those going through lung cancer treatment. “I didn’t know you were a closet smoker.” “My cousin Bill had lung cancer and he died.” Nealy everyone I've talked with who has lung cancer has suffered from these ill-thought out remarks in some way - whether they've smoked or not (and it doesn't matter.)

Why do People Say Stupid Things to Those With Lung Cancer?

Most of the time, people make these comments innocently without thinking; they don’t know what to say, are voicing their own fears about developing lung cancer, or are simply ignorant about the disease. Once in a while, we encounter people that truly lack empathy or are downright rude.  

Take a moment to think about why someone would ask you about smoking. Are they ignorant so that education would help? Are they hoping that you will say yes? If that's the case you could view the remark as being cowardly - they are hoping that if you smoked and they didn't - or if you smoked more than they did - that they are somehow "safe" from getting lung cancer themselves. Of course, you know that anyone with lungs can get lung cancer.

Dealing with Negative Remarks with Lung Cancer

Going through cancer treatment is a challenge enough, without adding the stress and hurt feelings that can come as a result insensitive comments.

What can you do to minimize the impact of these remarks as you go through lung cancer treatment?

Surround Yourself With Supportive People

Surrounding yourself with loving, non-judgmental people is the first step in handling insensitive comments. People that know your situation well, can empathize and provide unconditional support so you can focus on your treatment.

Those who are less familiar with your illness or your methods of coping are less likely to respond in a way that nourishes your spirit.

Have a Spokesperson That Can Speak For You

Lung cancer treatment can be tiring, and the last thing on your list might be trying to figure out how to deal with insensitive comments. Talk openly with your loved ones ahead of time, anticipating less than supportive remarks that may come your way. Your loved ones can then shelter you by responding in a fashion that answers those comments, without starting a series of questions in your own mind. “There are many causes of lung cancer.” "I am sorry your cousin died from lung cancer but we are very optimistic that the treatment Jim has chosen will be effective, and could really use your prayers and support.”

Pamper Yourself

Believing in, and loving yourself can head off many comments before they ever occur. When others see you fighting your cancer they are more likely to encourage you in your treatment. If they see you blaming yourself, they are more likely to join the cause and add to the blame.

Nourish your own self-respect. If you don’t appear to be questioning what you could have done to prevent your cancer, or what will happen tomorrow, others might be less likely to make a comment…maybe.

Don’t Become Defensive

Fighting your lung cancer requires your energy now. Don’t allow hurtful comments from others to drag you down and put you in a defensive mode. Some comments may be deserving of an honest response, and possibly even a response that the remark was hurtful, but don’t set yourself up for a debate on what you might have done differently in the past. We can’t change the past, but we can focus on present treatment.

If the Comment Lingers in Your Thoughts, Try Relaxation

Some people find self-affirmation helpful as a method to build them up and get past the pain of insensitive comments. Relaxation techniques can return your focus to what is important –- maximizing the results of your treatment. Some alternative therapies such as meditation, qigong, gentle yoga, and acupuncture may also help you cope with the stress of negative comments while promoting your quality of life during cancer treatment.

Educate the Ignorant

Sometimes it is best to ignore inappropriate comments or have someone else speak for you. If you feel up to it, the best way to raise awareness and educate the public about lung cancer is through the words of those who have been living with the disease. Let these individuals know that there are many causes of lung cancer, and that unconditional support is what you really need to fight your disease.

Maintain a Sense of Humor

When you are irritated when someone asks you once again how long you smoked (if you ever did), picture asking him or her a similar question were they diagnosed with cancer. “How long have you been…” Fill in the blank: obese, sedentary, addicted to tanning, obnoxious.

Have a Few Snappy Comebacks

As many a mother claims, two wrongs don’t make a right, but in the case of a stinging comment or particularly nasty remark, venting your frustration on the source might be just what the doctor ordered. Having a few snappy comebacks may help you dismiss some of these remarks before they penetrate your thoughts and leave you fuming silently. In response to a comment about smoking to a lung cancer patient, a friend actually heard someone say “Why thank you, I didn’t know smoking could cause cancer, thank you for telling me, now I know I deserve cancer!”

Practice Forgiveness

Many of those insensitive comments that fester in your mind have already left the mind of the deliverer. Don’t dwell on them. Address the remark, ignore it, or whatever, but let it go and forgive the one that was insensitive. Unresolved resentment won’t change the one that shared the comment, but will only poison you. 

For Loved Ones

If you are the loved one of someone living with lung cancer, you're likely familiar with how painful these comments can be. It's hard to know what to say to someone living with cancer. For a few tips, check out this article on what NOT to say to someone with lung cancer - thoughts shared by several people living with the disease.


National Cancer Institute. When Someone You Love is Being Treated for Cancer: Support for Caregivers. Accessed 06/10/16. https://www.verywell.com/how-to-keep-a-positive-attitude-with-cancer-2248819

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