When We Can’t Find The Right Words

Those who know me would agree that I am very rarely lost for words, but since entering the world of cancer I find that happens quite frequently. Even after all my experience there still comes a time when I am unsure what to say. Of course I don’t let that show, because cancer conversations can be difficult for both parties, but there are times when I reflect and wonder if I should have changed something that I had just said. Sometimes a little silence in a conversation is not always a bad thing, but I know that there will always be valuable things left unsaid on both sides.

Some of the most tricky conversations can be within families, where people can find it incredibly difficult to share their deepest fears and anxieties, with their loved ones. I know when I was facing some of my darkest times, I just didn’t want to communicate my personal fear, to my family, being concerned that they would be frightened too. I felt I needed to stay strong for everyone else. My wife still tells me different today, but that was my natural reaction, to try and protect those around me from showing how scared I had become.

In my own case I saw the issues as a husband and father, but didn’t really think about how my family saw things. At that time, it was all about me! But of course it wasn’t, they had their feelings too, and my first instinct was to try and protect them. But in our conversations since, they didn’t want protecting, they just wanted to know the truth!

As I have mentioned many times my work helps me meet some incredible people and Chloé is one of those. She is doing some work with how society likes to label us, and cancer came up as one of the biggest labels we use.

Deep into our conversation it transpired that Chloé regretted when her father was going through his cancer she didn’t understand the emotional turmoil he was going through. For her, the best way to communicate her emotions were to write them down, so she has written this below letter to help herself and family understand what she was going through all those years ago.

Dear Dad,

I’ll never forget the summer of 2005. It was the first time that you shared your vulnerability and fear of the fragility of life. I knew that everything would be fine; however, I did not take into account the label of cancer. You saw the label as a sentence of your time shortening in this world. 

I was being rational and not empathetic enough because the cancer was not terminal and common for men to have. I didn’t understand the fear. All I knew was that I will need to be the strong one for you while you were fragile, by reducing my care, to show you that it wasn’t serious in order to try to convenience you that all will be okay. 

Towards the end of the summer, I learned that cancer isn’t just a serious illness to the body, but in the spirit and mind. I didn’t know this well enough to support you.when-we-cant-find-the-right-words What was happening in your mind was wanting to live longer for me.  While you were swallowed and surrounded by fear of death, I wasn’t reaching my hand far enough since my mind was being dedicated with statistics that you will be okay soon.

This all changed the day of your surgery. While waiting with Mum during your surgery, LA was hit with a blackout. For a moment, the hospital went black for about 10 seconds. I suddenly felt as if I joined you in the fear pool. For the first time, I was more than ever scared of losing you. 

Mum and I went into the prayer room in the hospital, in a way to avoid the doctor telling us some grim news if we were to stay in the waiting room. I sat in the dark room just praying and hoping all will be well. 

I knew we couldn’t hide any longer in the room. We returned to the waiting room. The doctor came out and said you were going to be okay, surgery was successful, and the cancer was gone. However, he also mentioned that if the electricity went out a few minutes before, we would be having a different conversation. 

I’m truly sorry that I was not the daughter you needed during your cancer. I will always feel like I could’ve been more there for you throughout the summer of 2005. I let rationality take over versus empathy.

The possibility of losing you changed me forever.  I promise to do my best to be near and support you throughout this life. I will always be thankful to the universe that you survived the surgery during the blackout and the cancer. I couldn’t be more blessed and thankful to have you as my father. I love you always and forever, Dad. 

With all my love,


I would like to thank Chloé for sharing her extremely personal story with us and you can find more of her incredible work here. What I would like to highlight is that with one cancer diagnosis, so many other people can be affected. In many cases the psychological and emotional impact can stay with us forever! This side of things can do more harm than the physical effects of cancer. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences below.


  1. This brings to mind Fiona Fletcher’s My Name Is Not Cancer (MNINC) here in the UK. We are not our illness but society does like labels. It also brings to mind losing my father to cancer two years ago last month. Plus the day after that anniversary I sat in the same hospital with my mother for her pre-op check-up for suspected thyroid cancer. Thankfully, after three hours of surgery approx four weeks ago to remove half her thyroid, the pathology showed no sign of cancer. Conversations about cancer never get any easier. The fear and emotional impact of the word never lessen. I’m so pleased for Chloe that her father came through it. And we’re lucky to have you – and others, like Chloe – doing the work you’re doing, Chris. Enjoy the rest of the weekend. Deb xx

    • Hi Deb, yes you’re so right about Fiona, who is a good friend of mine. I had never noticed the label thing so much as a youngster, but cancer certainly is a big label! It seems that whatever I do now, wherever I go socially people know me as ‘that guy with cancer.’ For me it has been more than 9 years but people still want to talk about and always ask me how I am. Nice in many ways I suppose.

      So glad to hear about your Mum Deb, but I’m sure the thoughts of it will not be far away. Chloe and I are doing some cancer work together and when she mentioned about her story, I felt it was one that we could all learn something from. Even after all these years it has such a dramatic impact on our lives.

      We love the work we do Deb, as I know you do too, and I thank you so much for the support you give. As we all know that without the incredible sharing in this Community, it would be almost impossible to do what we do. Big love!! xxxx

  2. Chloe, thank you for your transparency, your vulnerability. This couldn’t have been an easy letter to write much less share with such a large number of people you don’t know. Your willingness to do so is commendable.

    Chris, I could not agree with you more the emotional and psychological effects of the lived experience of cancer for the individual and all who know and love them leaves effects long after the physical has steadied. I don’t think we give enough weight to that type of cancer devastation and I believe we need to change that by being more honest with ourselves and others. Everyone needs to be given permission to take lay down the masks of bravery, strength, and courage to allow the vulnerabilities to surface. We need support in order to do so in a healthy manner that provides us with a sense of agency over our cancer which will also go a long way in chipping away at the label, the stigma of cancer.

    My hat’s off to you both for starting the conversation so eloquently, so honestly.


    • Hi Stephie, I love how you have put things so eloquently. I was really delighted that chloe had offered to share with the Community, something so very raw and personal. I know it brought so much home to me, about my own relationships after cancer. It is something we so rarely talk about sand shows how long these issues can fester if we are not careful.

      As a society we rarely talk about personal stuff, even within the family. There does appear to be some kind of stigma attached to it. Subjects like health, finance and physical relationships rarely get brought out into the open, and there are times that we need to do just that.

      Chloe is doing some fab work about how labels in life affect us, and cancer is one of the biggest! I’m so pleased we were able to open up such a sensitive subject and get people thinking and talking. Thanks as always Stephie, Chris xxxx

  3. When my Mom was diagnosed 3 years ago with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare and sadly very aggressive type of liver cancer, I found it so much harder to deal with than when I was diagnosed myself 7 years ago.
    Mom didn’t want to talk about her diagnosis. She knew she was going to die and so did I, and she did, just 5 weeks after being diagnosed.
    There was so much that we should have talked about but we didn’t and it hurts so much that I wasn’t able to be with her in her final days. Living so far away and dealing with my own health issues made it hard to be there, plus she had been given 3 – 6 months but it was almost like she felt she had had enough and just wanted the pain to end.
    Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and a week on Monday, which will be the 3rd anniversary of her passing will be just as heard to deal with as the day I got the phone-call from my Sister to tell me that she had died.
    We all need to talk more about cancer – not only talk but also listen. So often there is much that is left unsaid; its too late to say it once your loved one has died. xx

    • Hi Kaz, I’m so sorry to hear that story about your Mum, but I totally understand what you mean about being able to deal with your own illness better. My Mum also was unable to tell her Mum that she had breast cancer, and went 5 years making excuses for her time in hospital. My Nan died totally unaware of what my Mum was going through, but that is how Mum chose to deal with it.

      I guess in some respects we have been lucky Kaz, and been given a second chance. It may not be the life we had before but it is life, and we can maybe do things differently, and we are both aware of the power of communication.

      My Mum died early this year, with a massive heart attack and I had no time to say certain things I wanted. I regret many things but it was meant to be. Having my own brushes with death, I am trying to ensure that I use my time properly, but I guess we will always have some regrets, despite all the lessons we learn.

      I’m so glad you felt able to share that Kaz, as there is so much for us all to learn. It shows the impact of cancer is very long term, so many years after the event itself. Very best to you as always, Chris xxx

  4. Chloe,

    Thanks for such a beautiful article. Cancer touches all of us in so many ways. I never got to see my father before he died of pancreatic cancer. To this day, 30 years later, I mourn and miss him. I wish we had had the chance to talk about so many things. You are so lucky to have this “second chance” with your dad. Enjoy and cherish every second!

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