A friend who is suffering from cancer of the pancreas recently shared with me a letter she received from her ten year old nephew.

“If everyone sent me something like this,” she said. “I’d smile everyday.”

Dear Auntie Clare,

Mummy says that you are poorly and I have to write to you. I’m sad that you are not feeling very well.

At school today I won the cross country race and I beat Dylan and I got a medal and everyone clapped.

Tomorrow I will be going to drumming practice. Drumming is my favourite thing. My teacher is called Jack. He can play the piano and the guitar. And the drums.

Hope you are better soon.

Tom xxx

P.S Mummy says I have to write another line.

What is your favourite X-Box game. Mine is FIFA 16.


Tom didn’t know what to say about her illness, probably because he didn’t know very much, so he didn’t say anything. But what he did tell her was his own news and it was this that made her smile and feel connected.

As adults we probably can’t be as blunt as Tom, but we can learn a lot from his letter about how to write a letter. Experiencing the fear or anxiety of not knowing what to say when hearing a friend’s bad news is universal and never more true than when hearing someone we care for has cancer.

What we can learn from Tom:

  • It’s fine to say you’re sorry and that you don’t know what to say. It’s not what you say, more the fact you’re saying something that makes the difference.

  • It’s what comes after that difficult opening paragraph that matters to the reader; this is the part of the letter that they’ll cherish.

  • You only have to write the difficult 1st letter once, after that the others will be much easier

Here are our sample opening lines that we hope may inspire yours:

'I bet you wondered why I haven't been in touch. I just didn't know what to say. I read an article on line that suggested that writing to a friend with cancer can make a difference to how they feel when they read the letter. I thought that it would be a good thing to write to you regularly with news of what's been happening in Ascot.'

'I have no idea of how you are dealing with the news. I find myself for once stumped for words and you know how much I can chat. I saw a website last night that it is good to write to a friend when you don't know what to say so I thought that I would give this a try. Who knows you might get lucky and this could become a regular thing.'

'I heard your news and wanted to be in touch to let you know I am thinking of you. I’m not going to pretend I know what to say but I do know how to write a letter, so I’m going to write one, and then another and then another, so you know that a friend is thinking of you.'

'I read something recently that said receiving communications from friends while ill can be of great benefit, so I’m giving it a go. Forgive me if I ramble but I hope that just reading this letter will brighten your day in some small way.'

'I was walking past Fego's cafe today and I thought of the great conversations that we have had in there over a coffee. I am sorry that I haven't been in touch. I never appreciated how difficult it would be to know what to say to you. But that doesn't mean that I haven't been thinking about you. I am so looking forward to the next time we can meet as I do so enjoy our conversations. Meanwhile I thought it would be good to write you a letter from time to time.'

'I saw Fred this morning and he told me your news. Mate that's a bugger. I just don't know what to say that doesn't involve multiple swear words. I just wanted to say I am thinking of you and I'll be in touch soon with a longer letter.'

For more opening lines, see our top ten tips here.

Want to see what other people write, read this sample letter here.

Not sure a letter can really take the social isolation and social anxiety that cancer brings, read here from people who received letters

Do feel free to share your own opening lines with us and we will put them up on the website to inspire others. Contact us here:​

“You have no idea how much your cards brighten my day and how much I appreciate them. But I guess you do, which is why you send them.”


Featured Posts
Recent Posts