Nikhil Joshi, M.D.
Doctor, Author, Leader
Nikhil Joshi is a young physician, writer, and speaker. He is passionate about furthering his ability to touch the lives of people positively.

The Top 5 Things to say to a person with cancer

The Top 5 Things to say to a person with cancer

To those of you just tuning in, I previously talked about 10 things not to say to a person with cancer. It was a humourous take on the things I hear all the time which were driving me bat shit. Well it’s not fair just to say you can’t say this or that- I’ve got to give you some things you can actually talk about. As with all my posts- it comes from a place of gratitude and humour. Gratitude that someone else besides me is actually reading this, and my typical brand of humour, which my family consistently tells me is deplorable.  And if at anytime you get bored with reading this, just skip to number one as it’s obviously the most important.


5) Did you see the football game last night?


One of my best friends called me the other day from Calgary to utterly dismiss Tony Romo (the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys). I happened to like Romo and thought he played a great game against the Broncos and everyone bitching and complaining about that one interception was cowardly after the guy played his heart out. But what I really appreciated about my friends’ phone call was that it did not have a fucking thing to do with cancer. It was about normal guy stuff. Normal. It’s almost enough to give a cancer patient an orgasm. Therefore you don’t actually have to ask about football- just ask about something freaking normal please. In fact, open up every conversation with something normal. If cancer gets talked about great, if not, that’s great too. But let the patient decide if they want to talk about it. Sometimes we get ‘cancer’d out’, when we’ve spent the whole bloody day talking about our therapy to every Tom, Dick and Harry.



4) Remember that time…


Some people don’t like nostalgia. I sure as hell do. I’ve got a lifetime of memories already that involve various degrees of hilarity and stupidity. Lots of people do. I am currently living in a goddamn bubble where I can’t see the people I used to see or do the things I used to do. Currently I have the sniffles, am probably neutropenic (meaning the cells that fight infection are down) and my house is on Def Com 1. There are masks, and Purell everywhere. It’s like Toronto airport during SARS. Or maybe a porn shoot? Do people wear masks on porn shoots? Can someone answer this question for me? Anyways- reminding me about that time we shotgun’d beers then peed on that bus brings me back to a simpler time. Bonus points if the memory you evoke is hilarious.



3) Did you hear about how Jake’s ex-girlfriend threw a brick through his window?


This can only work if we actually know people in common. Letting me know the funny shit that happens to other people is both hilarious and soothing. (Warning some cancer patients may not be assholes and would not like gossip- but I want to know what the hell is going on in the outside world!) I don’t want to emerge from chemo without an idea of the trials and tribulations of my friends. Furthermore, can we please talk about someone else’s problems? That would be swell. It would get my mind off my staging, prognosis and whether or not this fucking chemotherapy is working or just making me feel like shit for one blessed moment!



2) Netflix


What do I know about? Netflix. I know the fuck out of Netflix. I’m waiting for upcoming releases like I plan to pirate them (don’t worry internet although I have Indian heritage I’m not interested in stealing your films). Recently a few of my friends have pleaded with me to watch ‘Orange is the new black’. I will once I’ve finished watching ‘Cougars incorporated’ and before you get all up at me for watching that movie- I’m halfway through and it’s actually a very good film. But I digress- bottom line is think about something that person would like to watch that might have a humorous bend.


And the number one thing to tell someone with cancer is…


1) You look hot


Cancer’s a strange bedfellow. Somehow you go from being a normal person with normal desires to becoming this fragile human specimen sometimes on the cusp of life and death. And to be honest, after chemo, the last thing on your mind is being desirable. But as you recover it never fails to crawl back into your mind. I never realized how important intimacy and human contact was until I couldn’t have it freely anymore. Until my friends, family and romantic interests were afraid to touch me. At some point during my discussion with my hematologist I thought “man I’m not going to date anyone for four months”. I was about to embark on a transcontinental whirlwind romantic trip to South Africa and then BAM! Cancer motherfucker! My worries about finding a hotel in Cape Town and not getting stabbed seemed so much more manageable. To you this might seem trivial- but to me- the thought of four months without the chance of romantic love, without being desirable, well that was fucking terrible. It’s like cancer turned me into a fucking Ken doll. And even after this is all over (with the caveat being that I survive and have no recurrence) who the hell is going to want to date a guy with cancer? And I don’t think that’s awful actually, I think I’d understand the thought process of someone who didn’t want to get involved with me because I had cancer. I’d at least respect them more than the girl who didn’t want to date me because I didn’t drive a truck. (Seriously women? A fucking truck?)


So when I went out to dinner before chemotherapy with a friend who was a girl and she told me I looked great and after all this was over we could get married if we continued to strike out with other romantic partners- I said ‘God bless you. You’re a saint. Now take off your shirt’. Subsequently another girl friend came over the first day of my chemo, brought me Doritos- and at least allowed me the pretext, allowed the thought- that yeah I was still a guy and possibly could be a drunken decision in the future. It’s like a trade in the NHL- “Nikhil Joshi has been traded for…future considerations”. And when you have cancer- you’ll take whatever you can get. But God whatever you do- don’t friend zone a person with cancer! Fuck- don’t friend zone anyone who is sick. If you want to date them great, if not then don’t, that’s a totally reasonable decision and doesn’t make you a bad person in the least. That’s the thing about being ill- sure I may occasionally look and feel like shit, but the moment you pity me and talk to me because you feel you should rather than because you want to, you are cordially invited to go fuck yourself. Because even on my worst day with cancer, even if this damn thing kills me- I’m still better than that.



Thanks so incredibly much for reading. I mean that genuinely. I want to let you know that it was really kind of you to take the time to do that today and I actually appreciate it- and you.




6 Responses to “The Top 5 Things to say to a person with cancer”

  1. Michele S

    Thanks for getting these up as promised!
    Btw, I’m on Season 6 of MI5 on Netflix. First couple of season were meh but 3,4, and 5 are heating up. Love seeing all the shots of London. 🙂 Maybe you will too?

  2. Shandie C.

    You should really start ‘ orange is the new black’ it’s pretty funny!
    Ps, your pink dress shirt is not ” that” bad… Lol!

  3. Jackson

    Thanks for the advice! I’ll keep it in mind for sure.


  4. Carmen DeMarco

    I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time! You are hilarious, and your kind of humor is not deplorable as your parents would say, but truly down to earth funny.

  5. Chris Hamilton

    Dr J (aka Dr C)
    I’ll try to keep this short. I’ve been following your series on the CBC website, and from the brother of a cancer survivor, you’ve hit a lot of nails on their proverbial heads along the way. I so appreciate the human side of your blogs, and that you’ve opened up for all to “see”. My “little brother was two weeks shy of his 20th birthday before getting the diagnosis: Ewing (extra osteo) Sarcoma. He wasn’t ashamed, but when you’re that age you feel 10 ft tall and bullet proof, as did his circle of friends at the time, who didn’t know how to take all this. So he too was pretty pissed off.
    A sense of humour goes so far. He apprehensively awaited his best friend’s first visit in hospital during his first chemo and was greeted with, “How’s it goin’, Chemo-sabe?” (Sorry – google Lone Ranger.)
    Long story short, thank you for putting yourself out there. My little brother turned 40 last fall. He, his wife and 2 year-old are living life to it’s fullest on the west coast now. So there’s another “happier ending” as far as the big C is concerned.
    I wish you well in your health, your practice, and life in general.

  6. Alison M

    This is sooo great. I have been staying off the internet, and not listening to the radio much since starting chemo awhile ago. Now that I will risk hitting a god awful pink website (I’ve got breast cancer), and want to read about others who probably are not going to have religious conversions, or ever think something along the lines of “Oh I’m glad I had cancer, I never knew how many people cared about me” – which makes me think you had what? really, I found this wonderful blog. I will be reading it all.
    Thanks for making my day

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