How to support someone with cancer

Finding out that a friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer is life changing and effects everyone in different ways. For them, it can be an incredibly lonely and isolating time. Both their physical and mental health will be suffering, so they’ll need all the support they can get through this new, scary journey.

However, it is very easy to think you’re helping when actually you’re doing the opposite, so make sure you’re giving quality support that has a positive impact on them. It’s difficult to know what’s best to do when something as life-altering as a cancer diagnosis shows up unexpectedly, and of course you want to do the right thing for them. Below, we have given some suggestions on how you can support your loved ones throughout, and how to avoid the common mistakes.

Don’t attempt to ‘help’ with small talk.

By this, we mean those questions that generally develop into nothing but small-talk. Only texting “How are you?” every now and then can be draining for the recipient because they are, most likely, feeling grim. They don’t want to focus on how bad they’re feeling, and it can create an awkward atmosphere, which is the last thing the need. Other similar examples of attempting small talk include:

Asking how treatment is going

They probably won’t want to talk about it. Looking for a subject to talk about? Memories always bring a smile to people’s faces. Remembering funny situations, or ask them about stories of their past. Bring back happy memories as a temporary distraction.

Saying “Here if you need anything” or “Let me know if you need anything”

This means that they have to make the first move which they may feel guilty doing.

To avoid this, ask them if they need anything from the shops whilst you’re there. If you live with them, ask them if they want anything from the kitchen if you’re heading in that direction. If they seem up for it, suggest to get some fresh air together.

Do something without being asked

You can go one step further by do something voluntarily to make their life easier. An unexpected selfless act goes a long way, and shows your loved one that you’re thinking of them and genuinely want to help. Something as simple as buying your friend that snack you know they’ve been craving. Making sure they always have a glass of water nearby. Walking their dog for them or doing their washing.

A mistake that could be made here, however, is overdoing it. A lot of the time, they may want to do something productive. Movement is important, so if they want to help dry up whilst you wash up, let them. Otherwise you could risk them feeling like a burden.

Women socialising for their mental well-being

Find out what they need the most

Make it clear that you are there for them by learning what they needs the most and when. There's a wide range of things that they may need that a cancer diagnosis might get in the way of, so finding out what they are is a great way to support them. Some people aren't affect by their treatment too badly and will possibly be able to keep going with their lifestyle as normal. They won't need a lot of help, but may simply need someone to pick up their kids from school on the days of treatment.

For those who are suffering, find out what days they struggle the most and lend a helping hand by doing the household chores. Is their garden looking overgrown since their treatment started? Mow the lawn for them. If they're unable to socialise the way they used to, and you know that they still want to, bring to social gathering to them.

Listen to them

Sometimes, all your loved one might need is someone who they feel comfortable enough with sharing how they feel. They’re not necessarily looking for advice, they may just need someone to listen to them and reassure them that their feelings are valid. They’ll have dealt with a lot and will likely be wanting to get it all off their chest. Maybe they don’t want to talk at all, but just want the company, someone to binge watch a show with, or complete a jigsaw puzzle with.

Don’t ask too personal questions

Respect their privacy. Even though you want to know the ins and outs of what’s been going on, a lot of it is incredibly personal, and possibly painful to talk about.

Two people discussing their mental health

Don’t Google their diagnosis

One of the worst things you can do for both them and yourself is to research their diagnosis. More often than not, you’ll simply scare yourself with what someone, usually an unprofessional, has said. There’s no point in worry about what could happen. Instead, focus on the present, and what you can do for them now.

If, for whatever reason, you need to look something up, the most reliable source for information about cancer is

Give them space sometimes

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to back off and give your loved one space to recharge. Going through cancer treatment is exhausting to say the least, and quite often all they may want to do is stay in bed with no interruptions. If you see this pattern, maybe they’re especially quiet two days after chemotherapy, then make the conscious effort to not disturb them on particular days.

Keep them smiling

To let them know that you’re always there without becoming a nuisance, something as simple as sending them a funny video that you found could be all they need, especially on the days when they’re receiving their treatment. Maybe make a playlist of music that brings back memories.

Avoid saying “Get well soon”

Cancer isn’t like the common cold, you don’t get over it after a week or two. For many people it is their life now, and they may never get better. Sending a “Get Well Soon” card may seem like a friendly gesture at a first glance, but it could simply be a reminder of what won’t be happening. If you want to send a card, maybe signed by everyone at work, choose a “Thinking of you” or one with no words, maybe just a nice image.

Woman on chemotherapy treatment being hugged and smiling

Help them keep their medication organised with Hey Pharmacist

On top of everything, the last thing someone living with cancer needs is to remember to keep up to date with their medication. By keeping them up to date of their orders, and sending re-order reminders, Hey Pharmacist takes care of everything for them. It also allows the options to choose between pharmacy collection and free home delivery, making is accessible to everyone.

Furthermore, Hey Pharmacist also allows up to five profiles to be linked to one account, so you can take care of their repeat prescriptions for them!

Also read: Why I use Hey Pharmacist

Order for yourself and others

Of course, everyone is different and will want and need different things. But we hope that with some guidance, you’ll be able to support someone with cancer and help them take each day as it comes. The most important thing is to make sure they never feel alone.