One of the key ways to help keep open lines of communication is not only to ask “How are you feeling?” but also “What are you feeling?” If you think about it, “How are you?” is one of the most common questions we ask, but it can be a rather thoughtless one. The expected response is “Fine” or “Good.” It doesn’t allow for much discussion. When you ask, “What are you feeling?” you’re digging a little deeper. Asking this helps your friend feel like you want to know how they’re really doing.

When you ask, “What are you feeling?” be prepared to hear anything. Your friend may be thinking a lot about death or be worried about what the future holds for their family. Maybe they'll tell you they’re afraid they won’t live to see their kids grow up. Be ready to really listen to whatever answer you get. You don’t have to reply, but you must be ready to hear the pain or unpleasant thoughts that the question might bring up.

    When you ask the question “What are you feeling?” be ready to hear anything.

People with cancer sometimes like to get the opinions of those closest to them about their illness, treatment, and treatment outlook. Be open and honest, but don’t try to answer questions that you don’t know the answers to. Your friend will sense your honesty and appreciate it. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you need information. Your American Cancer Society is available online, and you can also talk to one of our cancer information specialists anytime. Call 1-800-227-2345. We’re here when you need us – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: October 1, 2016

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