Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

How to Support Someone with Cancer

When a person is diagnosed with cancer it deeply affects them and those who love them. Families experience a variety of emotions and challenges in the immediate aftermath of a cancer diagnosis. Grief, fear, apprehension, and confusion lead to sleepless nights and restless days. 

I previously discussed the caregiver in the post Self Care Option for Caregivers. In this post I will share practical advice regarding how to support someone with cancer (and their caregiver too). 

When we hear that a friend, colleague, neighbor, or fellow church member has been diagnosed with cancer we know we want to help but are often unsure what to do. We desire to be available but not intrusive, caring but not overbearing, present but not a pest. It may seem like a fine line; however, it is not. 

Of course, each relationship will be different but there are many common ways to be a blessing to the family who has the word cancer in their lives.:

  • Listen with Empathy and Compassion: Active listening is one of the powerful ways to support someone with cancer. Allow them to express their feelings, fears, and concerns without judgment. Avoid offering solutions or advice unless he or she asks for it. Sometimes, all they need is a sympathetic ear and someone to be with them in their struggle.
  • Educate Yourself about Their Type of Cancer: Understanding the specific type of cancer they are facing can help you provide more targeted support. Research the diagnosis, treatment options, and potential side effects. This knowledge will enable you to offer informed assistance and engage in meaningful conversation about their cancer.
  • Accompany them to Medical Appointments: Life with cancer can become a full-time job, especially in the beginning. Offer to go with them to doctor’s appointments, treatments, and consultations. Take notes during appointments can help them remember important details. Being present shows your commitment to their well-being.
  • Assist with Practical Matters: Cancer treatment often comes with physical and logistical challenges. Offer to help with tasks like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, child or pet care, and transportation. Additionally, consider assisting with paperwork, insurance claims, and scheduling appointments to ease their burden. One of my favorite ideas is organizing a Meal Train. You can also organize a call tree. A call tree allows the family to make one call with updates. This information is then relayed to others that the family would like to update. 
  • Foster Creative Outlets: Creativity can provide a way to express internal emotions or a way to “escape” for a few hours. This may come in learning a new task such as knitting, painting, or writing. Some patients find creativity and purpose by sharing their story. Caring Bridge is an online platform that allows individuals and families to chronicle their journey. Helping them create a page makes this readily available. 
  • Offer Distractions and Activities: While cancer creates a new normal, patients and families yearn for the old normal. Encourage activities that previously brought joy and relaxation. Engage in hobbies they enjoy, watch movies, or go for walks together. Don’t underestimate the power of humor and its ability to brighten the day.
  • Offer Respite Care: Supporting the primary caregiver by offering respite care is one of the best ways to support someone with cancer. 
  • Celebrate Small Achievements: Every step towards recovery is worth celebrating. Acknowledge their milestones, no matter how small they may seem. Surpassing the midway point of chemotherapy, reduced pain, and healthy weight gain are but a few of the triumphs one can experience in life with cancer.
  • Follow Through: Oftentimes patients and families are inundated with help at the beginning of their cancer journey. Time passes and the needs are still there, but the busyness of life distracts, and the help diminishes. Friends, this can be so destructive. Cancer results in a rollercoaster of emotions. Feeling alone should not be one of them. 
  • Pray, Pray, Pray: I leave this for last not because it is the last thing you should do, but rather, I want you to remember this the most. Praying with the patient and their family, praying for them, and gathering others to pray for them is a powerful reminder of the peace that surpasses all understanding.
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Knowing how to support someone with cancer and their immediate caregivers requires empathy, patience, and a willingness to adapt to their evolving needs. By being present, informed, and compassionate, you can play a crucial role in their life with cancer. 

6 Responses

  1. Thank you very much for healthy support many of friends, or their relatives have that kind of health issues,

    But thanks for this document

  2. Pamela,
    When my wife had cancer, we had a support team who helps her and us in many ways as suggested above. What I was able to do was to support her in all ways..going to oncologist appt., be with her during treatments, fixing dinner to enjoy with her, shopped, did laundry, and so many others filled in this crack with cancer to assist us in all way, particularly PRAYERS. My wife lasted 15 years through her cancer, got to see all her grandchildren get born, and enjoy them, enjoyed family and friends in usual ways, but when God took her home, that support team was there and still is today….a very large family of prayer warrior, and family of friends. Blessings, Pamela

    1. Al, you had to have been an incredible caregiver and it is so important to have a tribe around you in the midst of any illness but especially with cancer. What a beautiful testament to your wife and the community your have that cared for you both~ Thank you for commenting!

  3. Pamela you are a wise friend! Thank you for sharing your experience gained with caring for your patients and loved ones through years of practice. Even More than that, thank you for following the Holy Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your words are heart felt and help so very much as I support other people I love dearly.

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