One woman’s viral lesson: What not to say to someone battling cancer

What do we say to a loved one when we find out they have cancer? Holley Rothell Kitchen has a super, SUPER important lesson for us on just that. And it seriously hits home. Maybe that’s why Holley’s video, which she posted to Facebook on Thursday, has been shared almost 1.5 MILLION times.

The video pictures the lovely Holley holding up index cards which tell her story. At age 39, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. “After a year – I thought my battle was over,” she writes. But then, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, stage 4, in her spine.

“Metastatic cancer [is a] cancer that has spread from where it first started to another place in the body,” she writes in the video. Then, she shares some super scary statistics: it has no cure, kills 40,000 per year. . . and only 6 to 10% are diagnosed metastatic initially.

Holley takes five index cards to say: “My treatment will never, ever. . . ever. . . ever. . . ever. . . end. Until my journey on earth is over.”

Upon re-diagnosis, she only had 26 months to live, she explains. And that’s when she gets to the really intense part of the video, when she explains that everything we’ve been saying to those who are fighting cancer could be more compassionate and understanding.

When speaking to someone battling cancer, here’s what she says to avoid saying:

Cancer can come as a shock to everyone, but this phrase isn’t helpful at all.

It is NOT OK to blame someone battling cancer for their disease. It can happen to anyone.

This one may seem a little less obvious, but being hit ’round the head with positivity 24/7 must be exhausting for someone dealing with the physical AND emotional trauma of a scary disease.

Everyone is too young for cancer. No one should have to deal with it.

It’s heartbreaking to think someone battling cancer has heard those words.

In response to this one, Holley says that she fights “every single day, for. . .” And then, our hearts break when she holds up pictures of her family and two sons.

So if these phrases hurt a cancer fighter rather than help them, what should we say? “Sometimes, it’s OK to say nothing,” Holley writes. “Or maybe, I’m praying for you!! But truly pray!”

She explains that she’s not trying to make anyone feel guilty or upset. “My mission is not to shame anyone. . . just to educate everyone,” she writes. Because before I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. . . I didn’t know any of this.”

The biggest takeaway: “We are more than a pretty pink ribbon. . . We are cancer LIFERS!” She then implores others to educate themselves by visiting the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network’s site, as well as BreastCancer.Org. Though Holley’s video pertains specifically to metastatic breast cancer, we can learn a ton about how to be there for those who are suffering from all kinds of cancer, and how best to support them with our words and kindness.

Thank you so much, Holley, for sharing your battle. You are truly a #lifer. Check out the entire video below and learn from Holley yourself:

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