Supporting a Loved One with Cancer

Supporting a Loved One with Cancer

“I have cancer.” The three words you never want to hear from a friend, family member or significant other. Finding out that a loved one has cancer can be very overwhelming and scary.

You probably have a ton of questions you want to ask, but are unsure about how to talk to them or how to act around them. You want to be as supportive and helpful as possible, but you may not know the best way how. You’re not alone.

Unfortunately, there is no script or handbook with all the perfect things to do and say to support a loved one with cancer (that we know of). But here are some ideas about how you can be there for them.

- Check in often
Cancer can often leave a person feeling lonely and isolated. By checking in often, you can bring them comfort and a welcome distraction. As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine, so send them funny texts or articles/memes that you find throughout the week. You can also call them to chat briefly and ask them when you can visit. They may not be up for talking or for a visit, but don’t be deterred! Keep reaching out and tell them to let you know when they are feeling a bit better.

If possible, try to plan your visits when their caregiver needs to be out of the house. Being a caregiver is not an easy job. They can also use all the support that you can give them.

- Don’t be too nosy
Let your loved one decide how much they want to tell you about their diagnosis and illness. Don’t ask invasive questions such as:

  • What symptoms did the doctors say you could expect?
  • What’s your prognosis?

That’s not to say that you should ignore the fact that they have cancer, but take direction from them. Let them know you are here to listen, but if they would rather not talk about their cancer that’s fine.

- Offer to help in specific ways
It’s second nature to say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” when someone you care about is going through a tough time. Your loved one may be too overwhelmed to think of ways you can help. Take away this burden by offering up specific ways you can lend a hand to them or their caregiver such as:

  • Help with chores such as cleaning the house, doing laundry or yard work
  • Make a meal and/or create a meal schedule with other friends or family members
  • Go grocery shopping for them
  • Watch their kids and take them to and from school
  • Go with them to doctor’s visits

- Share updates with other friends and family members
You are likely not the only person who is concerned about the person with cancer. Many other friends and family members are just as anxious to find out how they are doing and what they can do to help. Offer to be the “point-person” who can pass on messages to friends, family members and co-workers when there is news to tell. That way your loved one can rest and not have to worry about constantly updating the people they care about.

There are a ton of great online resources that can make updating loved ones and coordinating schedules for meals, visits, childcare, etc. simple and easy. If you are looking for ways to digitally connect your loved one’s support network, check out websites such as What Friends Do and Lotsa Helping Hands.

 - Treat them as normally as possible
Keep in mind that your loved one just has cancer, but they are not defined by it. With all the doctor’s visits and conversations with worried friends and families, they may just want a break from talking and thinking about cancer. Keep up your normal activities with them, whether that’s inviting them to the movies, out to dinner or to parties. Let them be the one to decide if they are up for it or not.

Each person and situation is unique, but hopefully some of these tips will give you some good ideas on how you can be there for your loved one.

Do you have any other tips on how to support a loved one with cancer? Share them below!

Most recent update: 8/1/2019