What not to say to a breast cancer patient

Babette Labuschagne, a breast cancer survivor, speaks candidly about the dos and don’ts of how to support a breast cancer patient.

Babette Labuschagne (34) lives in Pretoria. She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in April 2020. She had chemotherapy followed by a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy with reconstruction (implants and fat grafting). 


At least you’re getting a free boob job. 

No, not everyone wants implants. I loved my breasts. They weren’t big, but they were mine and I enjoyed the time I had with them. They are a part of my body I lost. I’m mourning my breasts. So, no it’s not just a free boob job. 

My aunt had breast cancer. She died     

Okay. I might die too and might suffer the way she did before she passed. I get that you’re probably mourning and I’m sorry for your loss. But, a soldier doesn’t want to hear about the casualties. 

You brought this onto yourself 

I’m already racking my brain of all I might’ve done wrong in the past. Was it because I had a cigarette? Or because of the weight I gained? Was it all the zero sugar diet drinks? Exactly how do you think I did this? I’m questioning what I’ve done every single day and I’m too hard on myself. Don’t make this harder for me. Nothing I did made me get cancer. 

It’s (insert name here) fault you got breast cancer

Getting cancer is nobody’s fault. It’s not the ex-boyfriend that broke your heart, or because you don’t like your mother-in-law. It’s not your dog jumping too hard on your chest when he was so excited to see you. Don’t make me feel resentment towards people and things I love. 

Don’t do chemo! Go the natural route 

I’m choosing the best option for me, not for you. There are different grades of how aggressive a cancer might be. If my life wasn’t at risk, I would’ve probably tried it, but please don’t question my treatment plan that was created by doctors that have studied this for years. They are saving my life. 

You still look pretty

Once is okay. But don’t try and force me to believe this. I know you mean well. And I probably do still look “pretty” to you. I just don’t feel it. I have lost my hair, my eyebrows, my lashes and my breasts. I’ve picked up weight because of chemo, and the cortisone is giving me a moon face. I don’t feel pretty. I feel bloated, fat and ugly. And I’m allowed to feel that way. 

You’re in the high-risk dating category now

That’s great! Thank you for letting me know I now have a smaller chance of meeting someone who will love me. Trust me this isn’t true. I’ve met someone while in treatment and I’ve dated after. 


I know it’s awkward and you might not know what to say but just acknowledge my situation. If you don’t say anything, it makes me feel like I don’t matter. After being diagnosed casual acquaintances have become close friends, and close friends have dried out. Cancer has a way of showing you who really has your back. 


Speak from the heart

Just tell me you love me, that you’re sorry, or thinking of me. It’ll be a perfect response to my diagnosis. Hugs are wonderful, and telling me you’re bringing pizza or chocolates will give you brownie points. 

Offer help 

This will really be so helpful. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need something”, try suggesting specific tasks. For example: Take me wig shopping. Fetch the kids from school. Bring dinner over on Tuesday night. Join me at my next chemo session. 

Tell me about your worries and problems 

Having cancer is all consuming. I’m not only thinking about it 24/7 but I’m constantly being asked about it. So, I also need a break and I’m still your friend. I want to know how you’re doing too. So, please tell me about your life too, good or bad.

Images by Lambert van Sittert | lvsstudio.co.za