chewing ideas down to stubble, then moving on…

What to say when your neighbor has cancer…

Posted by Jason on December 12, 2008

So I was working with my bonsai trees out in the backyard (it’s the only little piss-ant yard we have), and my upstairs neighbor was on his balcony smoking a cigarette. We’d talked a couple times, mostly just saying hi and stuff like that. Once he jumped the fence in my yard to climb up his balcony when he locked himself out of the house, but that was pretty much the extent of our interactions.

“Hey Jason,” he mumbles.

“Hey Steve, what’s up?”

“Dude, I got fuckin cancer, man.”

“Damn, that sucks…”

I was shocked, obviously. Aside from smoking, he’s pretty healthy and works out all the time. I ran through the questions of how he found out, what do the doctors tell him, letting him know to just talk to us if there’s anything he needs. He just got married to his girlfriend recently, and he said it totally sucked giving her the news. All this from his balcony down to my yard.

My heart totally goes out to the guy, but I really don’t know him very well at all. I wasn’t sure what I should’ve said better or worse or anything like that. I felt really awkward but I also knew that he needed someone to talk to. So we talked a bit, but nothing was really said. 

His doctors say he might live, according to the latest news. He’s starting chemo and going through all of that now. I haven’t seen him out and about much. That’s understandable. It’s really the first major calamity that I’ve had to witness firsthand. My grandpa died when I was real young, but that’s about it.

I guess that’s part of becoming an adult: death moves closer and closer, spiraling into your personal circle. Eventually it’s you and the circle is closed.

Someone says, “Damn, that sucks…”


4 Responses to “What to say when your neighbor has cancer…”

  1. Brooke said

    Sometimes all you can say is “Dude, that sucks” and listen. And even though it doesn’t seem like much, it’s enough to the person who needs to share this news and talk and vent and process the news.

  2. iamsamiam said

    The best thing someone said to me when I was diagnosed was, “I just don’t know what to say, but I want to help.” Just be honest and talk from the heart. Be aware people with cancer don’t like to be mourned over as if they are already dead. Cancer does not equate with death and when people called me acting as if I was going to die, it stung. I knew they meant well, but I felt like they were giving up on me. It’s best to keep things in the now and keep it honest and real.

  3. kktucks said

    and i know, J, that you’ve pondered as to why people call it “a fight.” and i think that what I Am Sam said puts that into perspective perfectly: you’re fighting against death, fighting that cancer does not equate death.

    love you,

  4. layrenewal said


    A 60-something friend’s husband passed away after a looonnng fight. She remarried recently and a few weeks later he started getting really, really ill.

    What do you say? “I’ll pray for you” sounds trite even if we mean it from the heart and believe it matters (and I do).

    Try to find a copy of Reason for Hope: Gaining Strength for your Fight Against Cancer by Michael Barry. Might give some thoughts for next encounter.


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