Supporting a Loved One with Cancer

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. 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. Laughter is the best medicine: send them funny texts throughout the week, call them to chat briefly, and ask them when you can visit. Know that they may not be up for talking or for a visit. But, just knowing that you are there and thinking about them can make them feel loved and cared for.

If possible, try to plan your visits when their caregiver needs to be out of the house. Being a caregiver is never easy, and they can use all the support that you can give them.

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.

Don’t be intrusive

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 what’s going on with their illness, but take direction from them. Let them know you are here to listen, but if they would rather not talk about it that’s fine too.

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 such as:

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

Each person and situation is unique, but hopefully some of these suggestions will give you some good ideas on how you can be there for your loved one. Don’t worry too much about not saying or doing the right thing. As long as you are coming from a loving and genuine place, your loved one will value your support and concern.

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

Originally published October 12, 2015; Revised 2019, 2022