5 Ways to Help a Friend With Cancer

Is a friend or family member living with cancer? Here are a few ideas about what you can do to help.

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Medically reviewed in July 2021

It's natural to feel a range of emotions when someone you care about has cancer—sad, frightened, guilty, helpless, angry. Even if you are not the person’s primary caregiver, know that there are many ways you can get involved and make a difference during this difficult time. However, it is important to know the right ways to get involved. Here, we look at five strategies to help guide your efforts.

Offer help with logistics and daily chores
Cancer treatment can make it difficult for even the hardiest individual to keep up with errands, prepare meals and complete the myriad of other activities that demand our time. Taking care of tasks like these can really make a difference to a friend. Before you do anything, however, ask questions and offer suggestions to find out what your friend needs or would like help with—this can ensure you avoid causing stress and instead relieve it. Some suggestions on ways you can help include:

  • Chores, cooking, cleaning and errands
  • Transporting children to and from school
  • Sharing updates with others on the person's behalf
  • Driving your loved one to medical appointments
  • Accompanying your loved one to appointments and taking notes
  • Taking care of pets or plants

Educate yourself
Cancer is a complicated disease, and is often accompanied by unfamiliar medical language that can be difficult to understand. This can make both patients and loved ones feel isolated (and is one of the reasons support groups can be so helpful). Take the time to learn as much as you can about your loved one’s specific type of cancer—what it is, how it is treated, what healthcare researchers do and don’t know about it. This can help you become a better listener during those times when your friend needs someone to talk to. But an important word of warning—share any information you uncover with great diplomacy, and never question your friend's treatment decisions.

Sometimes, just letting a person share their thoughts and feelings is one of the best things you can do. Make it clear you are willing to listen whenever your friend wants to talk, and understand that your friend may want to talk about other things besides cancer or treatment—while you will undoubtedly have thoughts, feelings and questions about the illness, this is not the time to talk about them, unless you are prompted. Don’t offer advice unless asked, and don’t share stories about other people’s cancer experiences.

Make plans
Scheduling activities and outings can give your friend something to look forward to, and can provide a sense of normalcy during a time that can be full of uncertainty. Take care to plan activities your friend enjoys and can participate in, but also keep in mind the need to be flexible—cancer and cancer treatments can cause fatigue and other side effects that can disrupt even relatively simple plans.

Use the word "recovery" in your conversations
It is important not to raise false hopes or act as though nothing is wrong, but providing a sense of hopefulness about the future by referencing recovery can be comforting and reassuring for both of you.

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