Ideas for writing a card for a cancer patient

Updated April 17, 2017

It's hard to know what to say when someone you know is not feeling well. It's doubly difficult to know what to write in a card when your loved one or friend is living with cancer. The important thing is that you use your own words; a store-bought card with a canned sentiment will not have half the emotional power of a card you write yourself. But where do you begin?

Try a Little Humor

If you know that the patient has a good sense of humour, you can cheer her up immensely with a funny story. The easiest thing to do would be to copy a joke you heard (or read) recently, one that made you laugh (and made you think that the patient would find it funny, too).

For example, if your friend loves golf, you could start your message like this: Dear [Name of Patient]: Stop me if you've heard this one before! I was recently playing a round of golf with a nice young fellow. On the first hole, which was a long par four with water to the right and a deep ravine to the left, the young man took out a brand new sleeve of balls, teed one up and immediately hit it into the water on the right. Undaunted, he pulled another ball from the sleeve and hit that one into the ravine as well. Then he took the last ball from the sleeve and hit it, too, into the water. He then reached into his bag and pulled out another brand new sleeve of balls. "Why don't you hit an old ball?" I asked. He responded, "I've never had an old ball." Love from one hacker to another!

An even better idea is to relate a story about something funny that happened to you recently, perhaps at work or at home with your family. You could start your message this way: Dear [Name of Patient] I just had to write and tell you about a hilarious thing that happened to me and the kids the other day ...

Offer a Little Inspiration

You can use a meaningful quotation as a springboard for your own message. For example, "It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years" (Abraham Lincoln). Let the quote itself inspire you to add more: "Dear [Patient], I just wanted you to know how much I have valued your friendship over these past [number of] years. You have helped me when ... You have been there for me when ... Your life has always been a treasure to me." If the patient is terminal, that might be enough to say. If the patient has good hopes of recovery, you might continue with, "I look forward to many more years of your friendship and love."

Here are a few more inspirational quotes you might find appropriate to your situation: "Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway." (Emory Austin) "Courage is fear that has said its prayers." (Dorothy Bernard) "In time of test, family is best." (Burmese Proverb) "When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

Write from Your Heart

Imagine that you are seated by the patient's side. What would you say if you were just talking to him? Write that down.

You also might consider what you would want someone to say if you were the patient. Would you want to be cheered up? Would you want to be pitied? Look inside your own heart, and you'll know what to write.

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About the Author

Ellen Dowling, Ph.D., is a communication skills trainer and consultant based near Albuquerque, N.M. She has published many articles on training and development, and was formerly a writer for the Motley Fool. She is also a visiting professor at the University of Beijing, China, where she teaches business communication courses to international MBA students and Chinese business and government leaders.