Some people near and dear to me have been diagnosed with cancer. I must admit that while I really wanted to help I had no idea what to say or do. Perhaps you’re in that same situation. During my interview with cancer survivor JL (you can read her story here) I decided to conquer this fear of doing the wrong thing and asked her for specific things people could do to encourage, help and provide emotional support to someone battling cancer. The following top ten ways to boost the spirits of a cancer patient are drawn largely from that interview, as well as a few other less formal interviews with other cancer survivors. A big lesson I learned was that it helps if you offer concrete assistance rather than just a general, “Let me know if I can be of any help.” I dedicate this article to everyone who is battling, has conquered or loves someone with cancer.
Be There : #1 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
This was the most often repeated request of the cancer survivors with whom I talked. Being present and giving of your time, attention and self are so important and encouraging. Even if you don’t know what to say or do, say that. Visit with your loved one who has cancer. Spend time with him. Your loved one is probably overwhelmed with the whole cancer situation and may not even be able to think of ways for you to help when he is in the midst of the battle. But if you offer specific things then he can accept or decline. Even if you aren’t sure what you can do you could even just offer a specific time frame to help with whatever they need, saying something like, “I would love to help you on Saturday afternoon if that works for you, perhaps I could visit or help with your laundry?”
Drive or Accompany to Medical Appointments : #2 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Getting a cancer diagnosis is mind blowing. It helps a lot to have someone else present with you in appointments to take notes and have a second set of ears for remembering instructions and medical opinions. It’s also very comforting to most cancer patients to know that you care enough to share the experience and offer this major form of support. If your loved one is particularly introverted, just offer to stay in the waiting room. They might be too shy for you to come into the exam or treatment room with them but will still probably be encouraged by your caring presence.
Help With Chores : #3 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Sometimes during the course of treatment even doing dishes, making dinner or folding laundry can be too exhausting. Perhaps you can clean the whole house, mow the lawn or even just tidy one room. Surely there will be something around your loved one’s home or yard with which you can provide assistance. During chemotherapy your loved one may not be able to stand the smell of food but would greatly appreciate knowing that his family has a healthy meal to eat. Depending on your cancer patient’s current energy you could talk while helping or even allow him to take a much needed nap.
Run Errands : #4 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Even if your loved one who is battling cancer can still drive, he may be grateful for assistance in this area. Running errands is taxing and cancer patients often need to conserve their energy for the things that matter most. Offer to do grocery shopping, run to the post office, pick up dry cleaning or any other errands your loved one with cancer might need. This can be a huge help.
Provide Human Touch : #5 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Sometimes people stop hugging, holding hands or otherwise touching people with cancer. That withdrawal can be painful. Try to do the opposite. Don’t smother your loved one who is battling cancer but do provide regular loving touch. Just having someone sit beside you and hold your hand during this time can be a huge encouragement. When you don’t have the words to say, sometimes a hug can say it all.
Give Gifts of Encouragement : #6 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Positive quotes, cards with soothing messages, plaques, Bible verses, and other gifts that require no maintenance can be very beneficial in providing emotional support. Things that he can easily look at and will remind them off your support are especially great. Unless you’re able to provide all of its care, this is not the time to give a pet (which definitely requires maintenance). You don’t want to add work to the life of a loved one who is battling cancer. You want to support them in their fight and make their life more pleasant.
Provide Financial Support : #7 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Even if the person has insurance, the copayments and other out of pocket costs in a cancer battle can be astronomical. You could provide outright financial support, grocery or drug store gift cards, or even do a fundraiser. You could also make a donation in your loved one’s honor to one of the many charitable organizations that provide assistance to people fighting cancer.
Be Positive; Don’t Judge : #8 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
It’s important to keep things positive. Share stories of people who conquered cancer. Do not talk about people who suffered greatly or died horrible deaths. Do not judge or criticize your loved one while he is battling cancer. This is the only don’t on the list, but I have to say, it’s very important. One cancer survivor still felt pain upon recalling the cutting judgmental remarks made almost twenty years ago. This is an extremely vulnerable time. Be super sensitive. Even if the person’s behavior may have led to his getting cancer (perhaps the person is a heavy smoker and now has lung cancer), it is not helpful to point this out. Be an uplifting, encouraging presence in your cancer patient’s life.
Listen : #9 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
Really listen to your friend. Don’t just hear what he has to say but really focus on it and give him 100% of your attention. Let him talk about whatever he needs or wants to discuss, however trivial or deep. Sometimes he may just need to vent. Remember tip number eight and don’t judge. He may not want to talk about the cancer at all, but, trust me, having you listen will be a great encouragement. Try to make this time more about your friend than yourself. This is part of being there for your loved one as he battles cancer.
Pray Or Think Positive Thoughts : #10 Way to Encourage a Person With Cancer
This may be the last tip, but it is an important one if you or your loved one are a person of faith. Let him know you’re praying (or thinking positive thoughts) for him. If you are comfortable enough, then by all means offer to pray over him and also to pray together. But do respect his wishes if he says no. Knowing that someone was praying for them was a huge encouragement to the cancer survivors with whom I spoke.
If you made it this far then I know you truly do want to help, encourage and provide emotional support to your loved one who is battling cancer. You have a good heart and no matter what you do, please be confident that your good intentions will shine through.
May your loved one win the fight against cancer and may your relationship be strengthened by the time you spend together.
1) I want to offer hearty thanks to the cancer survivors who shared these ideas with me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
2) In this article I used the masculine “he” throughout for ease of writing but the suggestions apply to both genders.
3) Although they are my top ten tips, they aren’t in a valued or weighted order. While I consider being there to be the most important the others are in random order.
Interview with breast cancer survivor JL* and other anonymous cancer survivors.
*JL is used instead of interviewee’s actual name to protect her privacy