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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

34 Ways To Support Your Loved One Living With Cancer

Written by Oluwatoyin Joy Oke on 
25th September, 2023
Updated: 3rd March, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

It’s often a challenge when a loved one is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness like cancer and the support of friends and families is central to their journey. Because it often catches everyone by surprise,  adjusting to new roles, especially on what to do and say, can be confusing.

As a rule of thumb, it’s important that you first gather some of your thoughts on how best you can support them and ways you can do it with their approval.

We gathered some proven tips that can help you support your loved ones through this lonely journey. Here are 32 various ways to show your support :-

#1 – Take time to prepare yourself

It is important that you take the time to process your loved one’s situation. This will help you keep your emotions in check.

As part of your preparation, you will find it helpful to learn more about their diagnosis. Specifically, you can research on the common types of cancer diagnosis to see if you can identify the particular type your loved one is diagnosed with. That way you’ll avoid putting too much stress on your friend by asking too many details.

#2 – Support their treatment decision

People have their own preferences even when it comes to medical needs. So, you should understand that your friend has the right to decide on which treatment option he or she will go for. Therefore, show you support by respecting their decision and helping them cope with it

#3 – Help your loved one understand they need help

If you have a friend that loves to give rather than receive, it is important to make them see reasons why they need to allow others to help them. Always assure them they are not a burden and that you are ready and happy to play your role in helping them get through their difficult moment.

#4 – Respect their need for privacy

If you’re observant enough, you can sense when your loved one truly wants to be alone. If possible, you can tactfully let other guests know when they appear tired and appreciate them for coming. In essence, allowing your loved one has their own private moment shows you support them.

# 5 – Volunteer to help practically

Living with cancer comes with a lot of stress, making it very challenging to get some daily tasks done. You can show your support by helping out with some daily tasks and adjusting to their changing needs.

Consider some practical ideas you can help out with:

  • Doing grocery shopping
  • Pick up their prescription
  • Cook them dinner
  • Babysitting their children
  • Do their dishes
  • Make difficult phone calls
  • Talking to their partner, children, or other caregivers
  • Driving for appointment
  • Help to make research, as directed by them,
  • Tidy up their home

#6 – Talk about topics other than cancer

Talking too much about your loved one’s medical condition can be overwhelming to them. They sometimes need a break and would feel better discussing something else that’s more positive. So when you visit, talk about other interesting things that could cheer them up.

#8 – Allow your loved ones with cancer to feel what they are feeling

Your loved one living with cancer may become very emotional at times. Allow them to cry, laugh, express their fear, or any other emotions. Don’t be tempted to encourage them to be positive. Let them know it’s okay to feel down since they are going through a hard time.

#10 – Be careful of what you share

There are times you want to tell your friend things that are going on in your own life. If you sense that your friend may feel left out because they missed something they would have enjoyed, try not to talk about it. You can simply change the subject.

#11 – Follow their lead or take cues from them

Cancer treatment is personal so respect your friend or family member if they do not want to share many details with you.

Pay attention to their cues on what they want to talk about, and you can ask ‘do you want to talk about it?’ I’m all ears if you need to talk, but if not, let's do something else’

#12 – Ask for permission

Before doing anything for them, such as visiting, giving them advice, or even asking questions, ask if it is welcome.

You should not get angry if they say no. Let them know they are not under pressure and can say no.

#13 – Get your loved one thoughtful gifts

Giving gifts to your loved one is a powerful way of telling them: “You’re in my thoughts” and “I care about you”. However, choosing the right type of gift is just as good as expressing your genuine care and concern to them.

For example, instead of flowers or strong perfume, give them books, magazines, movies, and puzzles.

In addition, you might find it helpful to browse through our thoughtful gifts for cancer patients, which are carefully created and arranged by people who understand the effects of living with cancer.

#14 – Support their caregiver

We sometimes divert so much attention to our loved one living with cancer that we often overlook the toll of their diagnosis on the main caregiver.

These people have to juggle normal daily activities with caring for loved ones living with cancer, and they often have little or no time for themselves.

You can offer to

  • take their place on weekends while they attend to personal matters.
  • take the caregiver out for dinner, or movie, or anything that takes their mind off their duties for a while.

You can even get them the touched by cancer gift parcel. It a wonderful gift parcel that can bring relief to your loved one caregiver.

Remember that things done for the caregiver can make them happy, and your friend will be thankful that someone is there for their loved ones.

We discuss further looking after caregivers here.

#15 – Assist with caring for their children

If your loved one has children, you can take them out for an afternoon. Offer to watch over the kids while your loved ones attend to other things.

You can also volunteer to pick up the children from school, if that’s permissible or to attend their extra-curricular activities. This can go a long way in supporting your loved one

#16 – Organize a phone chain or meal drop-off schedule

Having such a schedule can support your loved one in a meaningful way. Having a care team get others involved in a positive way.

#17 – Keep things normal

Your loved one living with cancer may crave normality. Make them sense they belong by going shopping with them, seeing a movie, go to lunch or dinner together.

As you do all these, be attentive to their well-being, so that they won't end up getting stressed.

If they decline your invitation, continue to invite them, its shows that they are not forgotten and that you care about them.

#18 – Form a support group

You can organize a support team. Having an online or paper calendar makes it to organize activities among friends and family. Your friend or loved should have that calendar, so they know what to expect and when to expect support.

#19 – Distract your friends with little surprises

Do things that take their mind off their cancer such as playing music they may enjoy, reading them exciting books, solving game puzzles, and watching their TV series with them. Things like this will help relieve some of their anxieties

#20 – Beware of what you say

Avoid making statements such as “I understand how you feel", especially if you've never been in their shoes. Instead, you might just say," I do know you're going through a tough time"".

Be mindful of not focusing too much on their situation but always reassure them.

In addition, never remind them of the fact that they have to deal with the aftermath of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery –they know obviously! Talking about it will only be like piercing through an open wound.

Avoid negative statements. If you find it hard to know what to say not to say check out these tips on what to say and not to say. Remember what you say will determine if you really support your friend or not.

#21 – Help them find support

Finding someone passing through the same thing as your friend or loved one is one good way to show your support.

#22 – Be willing to bend for other family members

When family members bring up different ideas on how things should be done for your loved one, be ready to bend and hear them out.

It will hurt your loved one if a conflict occurs because of them. To show you support hear others out, remember you all want to help your loved one.

#23 – Exercise with them

A study from the American Cancer Society shows that moderate exercise can help reduce anxiety, aid recovery, and improve self-esteem.

As they strive to live with cancer, exercise is an activity they should engage in. Don't leave them to do it alone. Be around to go exercising with them, in or outdoor.

Exercise helps them in their treatment and recovery. But you and your friend can check with their medical team to determine the exercise program they can engage in.

#24 – Laugh with them

Your loved ones living with cancer may sometime feel depressed and sometimes feel low. When you visit bring some laughter with you. This can help lift their spirit.

Endeavor to show appropriate humor and be fun to be with. Share funny conversations or jokes with your loved ones. This can help make their day.

#25 – Pray with and for them

Assure them that you’ll put them in prayer if they are religiously inclined. Such prayer can give them the courage to face each day.

#26 – Read their blog, webpage, or group email

When you see their posts, read them. You can also drop encouraging words there.

#27 – Provide Emotional support

Your loved ones may be faced with different emotions after their diagnosis, during treatment, or even during recovery. Their emotions often toggles between feelings of sadness, anger, depression, anxiousness and so on.
Be there for them, allow them to express how they feel. Cry with them, hold their hand or give them a hug if that’s okay with them. Emotional support is crucial to loved ones.

#26 – Remember their family and responsibilities

Often the person who is living with cancer has family duties. So when you offer to help with the family's regular chores you could be taking a lot of stress away.

Simply asking how a partner or child of someone living with cancer is can show you are supporting the whole family which may be needed.

The important thing to remember is that this person has not changed but their circumstances have. They have been thrown into a situation where they are maybe overwhelmed with appointments and not sure of their own future.

They have worries about their loved ones and about their own health. If you can help in any small way or just be there for them it might make a massive difference to their lives.

#27 – Be available for your loved ones

Your friend living with cancer will appreciate it if you make out time from school or work to attend to them.

Even if you may not be there at a particular time for them, always have a plan b. Such support assures your loved ones they are not alone.

#28 – Donate funds to support them

Cancer treatment can be very costly, which may have a toll on their finances. So your donation to care for your loved one’s cancer treatment may bring so much relief to them.

#29 – Cook for them

Remember that one of effects of cancer may include loss or reduced appetite for food. Therefore, it’ll help a lot if you encourage them to eat. You can cook for them or assist them in cooking if they have the strength.

Their diet may be restricted, so check with them before making them anything.

#30 – Write them a letter or note

Letter writing is never an outdated form of keeping in touch. In fact, you may find it easier to express your sincere thoughts for them in writing other than in words.

Your heartfelt, handwriting letter with funny quotes can be a great gift to your loved ones, reminding them that they are never alone.

#31 – Don’t forget to reach out to them regularly

Living with a cancer diagnosis can be a constant reality for your loved one. That should be a motivator when looking for ways to support them.

There is no perfect time to have a heart-to-heart talk on how they are, so your email, text messages, phone calls can go a long way. Connect with your loved ones constantly and consistently (if you feel it's appropriate).

#32 – Offer to provide company during their treatment

If their treatment requires a stay at the hospital, make out time to keep them company. Staying in the hospital can be very boring, but having you around might be uplifting.

#33 – Ask them what they want or need

The little things you do for a loved one make a lot of difference. So ask what little things you can do for them that can help ease their discomfort.

#34 – Keep in touch after cancer treatment

Many believe their loved ones don’t need support after cancer treatment. It is important to stay connected to your loved ones at this time, offering your support and care. Continue to offer your support.Remember that support does not stop with treatment. Show up don’t just say, I’m always here for you, try follow up on that statement.

Check on them physically, when they can receive visitors, leave them a message or put a call through to them.

Remember to always be gentle with them.

Cancer can be very lonely, so never leave your loved ones.

One final note

Realistically, knowing how and when to offer support to a loved one with cancer can be very challenging. Get right to it using the tips in the article and do your very best.

Don’t worry if you don’t do it right at times. Your loved ones know you are trying and they appreciate your sincere support. You can also check out our support tips.

Further resources

Cancer Cartoons

My Friend Has Cancer

Free Cards For Cancer Patients

Tips To Help You Help Your Friend With Cancer

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