Best response for bad news?

Posted by Laurie @roch, Feb 25, 2022

@rhongirl posted a discussion in breast cancer group after someone said "hope you make it" after learning about her diagnosis, see her post for more details.

That got me thinking of various responses I got when people found out about my cancer. Some helpful, some not. I heard "sorry" so often I learned to hate that word. Even though it was said with good intentions.

From that experience I hope I respond appropriately when someone shares bad news with me.

Please share what responses were most helpful / encouraging when you shared bad news about a medical diagnosis.


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Thank you for starting this discussion Laurie @roch. I really struggle with this one and would appreciate all the help I can get to respond in a helpful and encouraging way. I think it's easier sometimes when you can be with someone in person and just give a gentle hug.


Hi @roch You bring up a good issue for sure! Just my personal opinion, but I'd say two things: First, I believe there is no "one size fits all" response to bad news. We need to adjust our words to how well we know the person and what the bad news is they are experiencing. Second, from my experiences after losing my wife I can say with 100% certainty, it was far, far better for my family and me if someone said anything as opposed to those who remained silent and never said anything to us. We never criticized anyone for the words they used to express their support, concern, love, etc.

In writing, I often begin with "I know words are inadequate at a time like this, however…."

Strength, Courage, & Peace


After I had mostly recovered from pancreatic cancer and had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I called my priest and asked, "What do I do now? WHAT do I do now?" He said, "I don't know. I don't know. But just keep walking." Those words still help me today….when I was told I may have multiple myeloma (I didn't)…. when I was working in a long-term care facility and had to take a leave of absence because of Covid stress…….then.civil urest…. and now world strife/war….I just try to keep walking, whatever that means. Sometimes I just make my bed. Sometimes I bake something. Sometimes I mend. Today I will go to the grocery store and then shovel the driveway. And I still thank Fr. Simrell.


It doesn't hurt to pray the Rosary while you "keep walking."


I agree with @IndianaScott I never criticize the words. Not everyone is good with words, some people feel a lot but cannot convey it in words. I also agree with @artgirl2 just keep walking. I told my niece “when my courage leaves me, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other until it returns”.
When someone I know tells me bad news my first response is usually “how can I help?”. This is a problem in the virtual world because all I have are words.


@roch great topic. I agree @IndianaScott that the situation and the person will help guide the words. Many people are uncomfortable with tough news and don’t know what to say. I find when words are all we have I say exactly that, something like “I don’t know what to say. This must be so hard. But I’m here. I’m listening.”

I think this is better than filling the space with a story of someone else I know who … yada yada… Its important to leave space for listening and sometimes that means being present in silence.


As someone who has been dealing with leukemia, a transplant and many other complications that followed, I have heard a lot of different responses when I shared my news. The most helpful responses were: “What are your needs now and how can I help?” The least helpful responses were people telling me that they know someone who died from the same disease or tell me about alternative medicine treatment that I must try.


This past weekend my neighbor and friend texted me with upsetting health news she had received about her sister. Things were still up in the air as the medical professionals were working on her. Being more than 500 miles away and hearing things second hand is upsetting enough. As @colleenyoung and @IndianaScott have said, tailoring your response to the person is so important. Rather than putting myself in her shoes [how soon can I be packed and on the road? How do I get a direct phone number to the facility and speak to the doctors? etc] I told her this:
-To call anytime day or night when she needs an ear
-Come knock on the front door, and
-Reminded her of the varieties of tea in my cupboard
-Take deep breaths
She knows where I am, and I won't push her to engage before she is ready. Each person is different; this is what works for me.




I have been reading all the good posts on this subject. If you are comfortable with whatever response you have and it is heartfelt, that comes across to the other person as sincere. If you know that person well, they know you and will be grateful for whatever you say. If you don’t know that person well, it doesn’t matter what you say as long as it is genuine and , in the midst of their grief, they probably will not remember much of what anyone says.

It really doesn’t matter…go with your instinct and your personality .

FL Mary

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