How to Provide Practical Support for a Loved One with Cancer

A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, and can affect both the person and the people around them. Finding out that a loved one has cancer can be devastating, and it can be challenging to know how to help them. The understanding that they are facing something you cannot change is hard, but it doesn’t mean that you are helpless, even though it may feel that way at first. 

You may be wondering exactly how to help your friend or family member as they go through their journey fighting cancer. During this journey, they will need a lot of help, support, understanding, and compassion from you. If you’re not sure how you can best support a loved one with cancer, keep reading. We’ve put together this article to give you some insight and actionable things you can do to help. 

Note: Every relationship is different and special, so some of these tips may work better than others for you. Remember to take your dynamic with the person into consideration so you can help them in the best way possible. And don’t forget, the little things often end up meaning the most. 

How to Support Your Loved One with Cancer

If you want to support your friend or family member who has cancer, you will first have to make sure you are capable of being a solid pillar of support.

1. Process Your Own Feelings


While your loved one with cancer is facing the brunt of the situation, you may still have a lot of emotions you need to process. Take the time to acknowledge your feelings and work through them beforehand. If you put yourself on the back burner from the beginning, you’ll find it hard to support them in the way they need. 

2. Do Your Research


Read up on your loved one’s diagnosis and try to learn as much as possible about it. Your loved one may not want to discuss the details of their cancer, understandably, so doing your research in advance will keep them from having to do the emotional and physical task of explaining it to you. However, ensure that you have the correct information, and don’t be afraid to ask them (or another friend or family member who may have the answers). 

3. Take Initiative


You may think that asking what you can do to help is the right thing to do, but very often, it just adds another burden to your loved one. Instead, offer help in specific, tangible, and practical ways. Consider the experience your friend or family member is going through. If they’re unable to do household errands and chores, offer to help. Maybe they have an activity you can do with them. However, remember to ask their permission first.

How to Provide Emotional Support for a Loved One with Cancer

You might be unsure about the right things to say or do to provide emotional support for your friend or family member going through cancer treatments. Remember that everyone’s journey is different, and ultimately, the way you support your loved ones depends on them and their journey. Some people may want to talk about their cancer, and others may avoid the topic altogether. Regardless, remember to respect their decision, and be patient throughout.

Don’t Be Afraid of Sadness


Providing emotional support doesn’t mean shying away from sad thoughts or feelings. Rather, allowing the room for your loved ones to feel everything they’re feeling without having to worry about anyone’s reaction can do a lot for them. 

If your loved one needs to vent, cry, or talk about how they feel, give them the space to do so without any judgment.

Treat Them the Same


A cancer diagnosis is life-changing, which means a lot of people will likely treat your loved one differently. This can become a source of stress for them as it is a constant reminder of their cancer. A good way to support your friend or family member is to treat them the same way you always have, and not let their condition change your relationship.

Help Them Focus On Good Things


The physical, mental, and emotional brunt of cancer is difficult to go through, so if possible, try to make them feel good or laugh. Be funny (when appropriate) and try to focus on the things your loved one likes and feels comforted by. It can be a hobby, sports, television shows, pets, religion, and more.

How to Provide Practical Support for a Loved One with Cancer

Finding a concrete way to help your friend or loved one will be very helpful for them if they find themselves unable to keep up with regular chores and errands. Even if they have a primary caregiver, offering your help will allow them a rest as well.

  1. Help out with grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, and other errands. You could develop a consistent routine, or set up a grocery delivery service. 
  2. Help keep the household running and organized. 
  3. If your loved one has children, babysit, take them to and from their activities, and set up play-dates. 
  4. Offer to drive your loved one to the hospital, support groups, or simply to get some fresh air. 
  5. Think about the little things your friend or family member enjoys in their day-to-day life, and try to make sure they are still able to engage with it in some way every day. Keep in mind that cancer patients very often get fatigued, so don’t push them if they are unable to engage sometimes. 
  6. Give your loved one company during treatments and appointments. 

Sometimes, people can be resistant to receiving help. If this is the case, remember to respect their boundaries, but gently remind them that you are doing this because you care, and don’t expect any repayment. Cancer diagnoses can often leave people feeling a loss of autonomy, so ensure that you ask for permission before going ahead with any of these steps. 

At New Jersey Cancer Care, we believe that every patient has the right to dignity and compassion. We’ve provided unmatched care for our community for more than 40 years, with world-class, board-certified, and fellowship-trained physicians who all strive to provide compassionate and personalized care. 

To learn more about how you can help a loved one with cancer, take a look at our informative resources, or contact us today.