How to Be a Hero to a Cancer Patient in Your Life

Emotional support from friends and family can make a huge difference in the quality of a cancer patient’s life. People are often afraid of saying something wrong to someone with cancer. If you are honest, open and show genuine concern, then you will be a great support.

Here are some basic tips that can help your loved one during their cancer treatment:

  • Send a card, call or text to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • It’s fine to tell them you’re thinking of them and you’re sorry they’re going through this, but let them broach the subject of prognosis.
  • When you see them, it’s not necessary to comment on physical changes like weight or hair loss. “It’s so good to see you” is always a welcome greeting.
  • Treat them the same as you always have. You don’t have to change your demeanor because of their illness. In fact, they’ll appreciate it if you don’t.
  • Help them maintain some sense of normalcy. Talk about all of the old familiar topics rather than sticking to their cancer journey all the time. They are more than their diagnosis.
  • Let them know that if they want to talk, you are there to listen; then be there.
  • It’s okay to sometimes be at a loss for words. If you’re not sure what to say, ask, “How can I help you right now?”
  • Help the patient connect with trustworthy resources. You can do some advance scouting on online resources to help keep your friend from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Make plans for the future. Having something pleasant to look forward to supports hope and can be a welcome distraction.
  • Be flexible; make sure that plans can be easily changed in case your loved one needs to cancel or reschedule with little notice.
  • Let the patient know it’s okay to say “no” to things they don’t want to do, that your feelings won’t be hurt if they don’t feel up to a call or visit or outing.
  • Offer help in general and specific terms. It can be hard for your loved one to ask for help; knowing that they have your support can make that easier. Offering to do specific tasks saves them the discomfort of verbalizing that need.
  • Play to their sense of humor. Laughter is healing. Keep an eye out for signs of what your friends find funny and supply them with a good laugh now and again.
  • Make and deliver some favorite meals that they can put in the freezer or quickly reheat when they don’t feel like cooking. It’s essential that they continue to eat nutritious meals to support their body.
  • Identify the everyday tasks they love to do—and hate to do. If they love to cook but hate to shop, offer to pick up and deliver their groceries.
  • Help your loved one explore new interests as a diversion from treatment and worry. Be patient if they only devote a little time to one before moving on.
  • Make note of signs that the patient is starting to feel anxious and activities or other methods of diverting their attention to something more positive. 
  • They may get sad—or angry. Don’t ignore these uncomfortable feelings. And know that sometimes they simply won’t be distracted from them. Drive them to the doctor’s office for appointments and blood tests. Offer to take notes, or help them make sure they take their journal or notes to aid conversations with their doctor.  
  • Answering the same well-meaning questions from multiple friends can be exhausting. If they want to share updates on their journey, help them connect with apps like to share a single update with numerous people. If they don’t want to post themselves, maybe you can do it for them.

More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us at 850-610-3743, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion, so you too can experience the difference.