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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

How To Help Someone Going Through Radiotherapy

Written by Dr Shara Cohen on 
9th October, 2021
Updated: 25th April, 2023
Estimated Reading Time: 10 minutes

How to help

If you have a friend or loved one who’s going through radiotherapy treatment as a result of their cancer diagnosis, you’re probably keen to help them out in some way. But how? Knowing how to do that in the right way and in a way that’ll be helpful without being too intrusive can be tough. And each person’s needs and preferences will always be specific to them.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that you should wait for them to ask you for help though because some people are very uncomfortable about asking for help, even when they really need it. They might be hesitant to burden you with the things that they need help with, so putting yourself out there and offering up help is key. You’ll want to make it clear that you’re there for them.

Below I will share some of the ways in which you can be helpful to someone going through radiation therapy, with some suggestions of things they may want or need but don't know how to ask for.

How To Help Someone Going Through Radiotherapy

Offer to take them to their appointments

It’ll be important for your friend or family member to get to their radiation treatment without too much stress or hassle. If you know that they don’t have anyone who can take them there or they sometimes need a little extra help to get there, you could offer to do that for them. Appointments often come thick and fast for cancer patients and radiotherapy can be every single day for many weeks, so staying on top of all the appointments is important.

It could be as simple as filling in when the person who usually takes them to their radiation treatment is not able to do so. Being the person who can step in and offer this basic service can be essential. The person going through radiotherapy will more than likely have enough stress to deal with without having to also worry about getting there on time and on schedule.

Wait for them during their radiotherapy

Attending radiotherapy appointments with them might be very helpful. Although you won't be able to attend the radiotherapy session, just being the person waiting for them when they come out might be comforting. If you know that they would otherwise have to attend their appointments alone and they might not be comfortable doing that, you could offer to attend and wait for them. Of course, you don’t want to make the mistake of inviting yourself, but offering and asking won't do any harm.

Do What You Can To Help When They Need To Rest

If you do end up attending appointments with them, you could help with some practical things. There’s often a lot of information that’s relayed during or after radiotherapy that needs to be remembered. You could offer to take notes of the things that are said so that they can be remembered and you can remind your friend of them later.

People who are going through radiotherapy treatment can sometimes experience brain fog. It can make it difficult to focus and sometimes difficult to remember details. That’s why taking notes and keeping track of those details is something may be valuable. It’s a good example of a practical way in which you can help and make yourself useful.

Look after their kids so they can rest

If the person going through cancer treatment has a young family and has to deal with all the tasks and responsibilities that come with that, you should try to do whatever you can to help out (if they want you to). It’s very difficult to balance all of those tasks and keep things moving in the right direction while also receiving treatment for cancer. It makes all of those tasks more difficult than they used to be for understandable reasons.

There are plenty of ways in which you can help cancer patients, and looking after the kids while they’re resting is one example of that. Rest is vitally important for people who are receiving radiotherapy treatments. It’s hard to get the rest that’s needed when you need to do all the tasks associated with looking after children and managing a household. You can help them out with that.

Again, this is something that you can offer to do and it’s not necessary to wait to be asked. It’s something that people often don’t like to ask for because they don’t want to ask much of the people around them, even if they could really do with that extra assistance and a little extra rest.

It’s Vital To Keep The Area Being Treated Moisturized With A Non-Perfumed, Non-Reactive Moisturizer. Emollients Do This And An Emollient Wash Can Also Be Used As A Good Alternative To Soap.

Do what you can to help when they need to rest

There are lots of ways in which you can alleviate the pressure on the person you’re trying to help. As we’ve discussed and as you know, radiotherapy can be tough and making sure that the person receiving that treatment gets enough rest in between treatments is vitally important. It’ll help them deal with the process and procedures much more smoothly if they’re able to get that kind of rest.

Everyone’s situation is unique and individual to them, and it’s up to you to find ways in which you can help. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with simply asking them what you can do for them. And if you notice that there are things that are taking up their time and stopping them from resting, and you think you can help with them, it’s definitely a good idea to offer it.

Sometimes, you’ll need to get creative and find ways to help out. It’s all about making sure that they get the rest and recovery time they need; that’s what it comes down to and you can see it as your mission to help make that possible. It’s something that you’ll have to figure out depending on the circumstances and your relationship.

Create a care package for them

One useful and effective thing you can do when trying to help someone who’s going through radiotherapy treatment is to create a care package for them. This should include a range of things that they would find useful and comforting as they go through the difficult and often testing process of receiving the treatment they require. It’s a perfect way of showing you care while also doing something that’s practically helpful to that person.

So what should be included in the care package you create for them? Well, that’s up to you to decide, but there are some things in particular that you should definitely think about adding and some things you shouldn't. For a start, don't add any perfumed or harsh cleansers or toiletries as these can irritate freshly treated skin. Instead, you could look at some things that can help them take care of themselves while taking into account the specific side effects that come with radiotherapy treatment. Perhaps include an emollient cream, which can be used to care for the area of the body being treated? It’s vital to keep the area being treated moisturized with a non-perfumed, non-reactive moisturizer. Emollients do this and an emollient wash can also be used as a good alternative to soap.

You could add a few things that can offer comfort and make resting a little easier than it otherwise might be. For example, pillows, a blanket and /or sleep masks are good options if you want to provide them with greater comfort. Or by a ready-made care package, as below

Gifts for radiotherapy patients

There are other suitable gifts for people going through radiation therapy, and as long as you remember not to get anything that might irritate burns, you will probably be OK. Below is a sample of the gifts we provide, with radiation therapy patients in mind.

Help with food prep

Helping out with things like food prep can be a good idea if you want to make yourself useful. Good food and a healthy diet is important for anyone dealing with cancer, especially when they’re going through radiation treatment. If you want to help out, you can prepare them some healthy dishes that will help them through their recovery and get the nutrition that they need. Just make sure you are aware if they have any special diet, dietary restrictions or if their taste has changed due to their cancer or therapies.

But it's not just about making sure that people with cancer get the food and nutrition that they need; it’s also about making sure that they don’t have to spend a lot of their time cooking when they could be resting and taking care of themselves. We all know how tasking and challenging cooking can be and taking that pressure off their shoulders can be a big positive.

There are lots of ways you can help, from coming over and cooking for them in the evening to preparing some food in your kitchen and bringing it over to them so that they don’t have to cook for themselves. All of these things can be highly positive, so it’s definitely something for you to consider.

Be there to sit and listen

It’s not always the big things that matter to a person when they’re going through cancer treatment. The smaller seeming things can also have a big impact on these kinds of things. For example, if you can be there for them and listen to their problems and the things they’re going through, that’s something that can be really helpful for them.

Simply letting them vent and share their feelings, no matter how negative, you could have a positive impact. Sometimes it’s better for them to get those thoughts and feelings out and to share them with another person than to bottle them up inside. Having someone to talk to can make them feel a lot better about things and simply having an outlet for those feelings is healthy, and you could facilitate that.

It’s also about making sure cancer patients don’t feel alone as they go through this process. It can be incredibly lonely when you’re dealing with those challenges and it’s up to you to let them know that they’re not alone and that you are there for them in whatever way you can be, no matter how tough things get.

Offer them some normality

It’s also important to remember that people with cancer receiving radiotherapy won’t necessarily want to be treated differently than they would be before they were diagnosed with cancer. That’s why you should try to offer them some normality. Talk to them about normal things and talk to them in a normal way. It might sound strange, but this is often the most important thing of all.

When life is so different and all of these unfamiliar and scary things are happening, having normal things going on and a dose of normality can be really helpful. Don’t start treating them entirely differently to how you normally would, even if something does have to change. Try to have a laugh and talk to them about the things you would normally talk to them about.

Being a good friend when someone is going through radiotherapy is all about making that person feel more comfortable, and that extra normality you have the opportunity to bring can certainly help them with that. This is something that can be approached in many ways, so make the effort to keep things normal.

Help Them Stay On Track With Their Recovery

Help them stay on track with their recovery

After this cancer treatment has been completed, they’ll need to do what they can to stay on track and maintain their recovery. There are so many things that need to be done, from looking after their skin to getting rest and everything in between. If you’re able to, you might want to attend appointments with them and understand what needs to happen next by listening to the thoughts and guidance of their doctors.

If you do that, you can understand what needs to happen and how you can support and motivate them when it comes to staying on track with their recovery. This is an important part of the treatment process and you’ll help them out a lot if they’re starting to struggle. That extra support from someone who cares about them can make a big difference.

It’s easy to get demoralized when dealing with something as challenging and serious as cancer, but staying on track remains vital throughout the process. If you can help cancer patients stay on track in whatever way you can it could be positive for them.

Brighten up their day in small ways

There are lots of small things you can do to help people with cancer and show that you’re there for them. These things do matter, even if they’re not going to have the biggest impact. Sometimes, a person just needs to have their day brightened up in a little way. It’s about lifting their spirits and making sure that they have the motivation to carry on.

You can do this in a variety of different ways, so it’s up to you to work out how you can make sure that this happens. It could be as small as showing up for them and being there when they’re feeling vulnerable. Showing that they’re not alone and that they’re fully supported makes a big difference and could lift their mood.

Stay in touch

If you can't be there in person staying in touch is also something that could be important. You can show them that you’re there for them and that you’re thinking about them by simply calling. Calling them and being there to talk is something that’s important and easy to do, as we’ve discussed above. It’s also important to understand how valuable it is to know that someone cares, and that’s what staying in touch does.

Everyone is different and some people with cancer just want to shut themselves away and hide from the world when they are going through something that might be the toughest times. Staying in touch and keeping them connected to the world outside their bubble is a way in which you may be able help them.

Don’t hesitate to give them a call or even simply send them a message to find out how they’re doing. Let them tell you if they don't want to talk and don't be upset if that's the case. These are all relatively small things, but they make a big difference and that can’t be ignored.

When someone close to you is going through something as serious as cancer treatment, being there for them and helping them in any way you can is something that’s very important. It can sometimes be difficult to know how you can help, but the advice and options discussed above should give you a few positive places to start.

Further reading

Cancer Self Care Ideas – To Help You Look After Yourself

Worst Gifts For Cancer Patients

How To Help Someone With Cancer: What You Need To Know

We strongly advise you to talk with a health care professional about specific medical conditions and treatments. The information on our site is meant to be helpful and educational but is not a substitute for medical advice.

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