Supporting a Friend or Loved One with Cancer


A cancer diagnosis can cause a variety of


Sadness, anger, confusion, and helplessness are all feelings that are common to experience

after a cancer diagnosis and throughout cancer treatment.

Many people going through cancer find it's comforting to be able to talk to others about their feelings.

In supporting a friend or loved one going through cancer, it is important to stay in

touch with them and let them know you care, and to take cues from them about what type

of communication works best for them.

When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, there are a lot of immediate needs, of course, for

treatment, for information, but they also need encouragement and and compassion from

family and friends.

They really appreciate expressions of love and support from loved ones, friends.

I hear that all the time from patients, who tell me that they're moved and deeply grateful

for those expressions of kindness and concern.

I know some people may hold back for fear of appearing to be intruding during a very

private moment, but I do know from what I've heard from patients over the years that they

really feel grateful for expressions of kind concern, for empathic support from friends,

relatives, even coworkers.

When talking to a friend or loved one with cancer, try not to overburden the person with

details about your emotion as it relates to their cancer, and try to limit the number of

questions you are asking.

And stay away from stories comparing their cancer to someone else's.

Sometimes, relationship dynamics may change after someone has been diagnosed with cancer.

When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, you see usually 1 of 2 things: people who have

maybe been in your inner circle, you might see them step out of it, and then other people

who were maybe on the periphery of your life, they will step in.

And I just want to encourage more people to step in.

When someone gets a cancer diagnosis, they really need to feel like they matter, that

they care, and that they're supported by their family and friends.

A lot of times, people are uncomfortable because they don't know what to say and how to provide

comfort to their friend, and so they don't say anything.

But I think if you feel like that, instead of withdrawing from that relationship, just

tell your friend, "I don't know what to say, but I do care, and I want you to know that

I care, but I don't know what to say."

Just express yourself, even that way, I think is helpful.

A diagnosis of cancer leads to so many changes in the way a person thinks of their life,

and sometimes they're surprised by completely unexpected or random acts of kindness from

people they didn't even think knew them very well.

But those are very meaningful experiences.

When I was diagnosed, I was working, and some of my folks--my colleagues at work--initially,

they were sort of ignoring my cancer diagnosis, and I felt a little hurt, as if maybe they

just didn't care.

And then I later found out that they had sort of talked amongst themselves and said, "Dusty's

being strong about this, so we're just going to be strong about this, and we won't even

talk about it."

And I was like, no, I want you guys to talk--I want to talk about it.

And then they got together and they said, "We really would like to bring some meals

to your house"--when I was going through surgery--"Do you mind if we do that?" and I'm like, "That's awesome."

And it was really great.

And not only the meals, but they would come to visit and bring the meals, different people.

One of my colleagues, she was super-organized, and she had this schedule.

It can be helpful for family and friends to use websites or apps to help update others

on the person's condition, and to arrange any help the family may need.

This enables the person going through treatment and their family to communicate to many people

at the same time, so the communication doesn't become overwhelming.

Some patients and families, for instance, create a webpage, where they alert others

as to what's going on.

And this is important, for instance, in the case of a long illness, or a long hospitalization,

such as for a bone marrow transplant.

But there are so many different ways that patients and families and communities of friends

can express support.

I know the case of a patient whose friends created a schedule, so one of them would accompany

her to her chemotherapy appointments, and this was all programmed.

There are so many different ways of showing support: bringing meals, calling, sending

a card, phoning, offering to do some chores.

Because at the end of the day, I think it's really important for a person undergoing cancer

treatment to feel supported and connected to others.

Creating a community is really important, and requires effort.

So if friends and relatives can step up and help with that, I think it will provide an

enormous comfort.

To find out more about how to talk to and support someone with cancer, visit Cancer.Net.