Being There

Ways to help your friend or loved one who has cancer
Wednesday, May 13, 2015 - 2:55pm

Studies show that patients with supportive loved ones cope better emotionally than those who don’t have support. Yet many patients have trouble asking for help — and friends, feeling uncertain, often fall back on, “Call me if I can do anything.” Here are specific things you can do to help.

Support from the Heart & Mind

  • Learn about the type of cancer involved.
  • Listen and let them express their feelings. Be prepared: emotions may run high and you may become uncomfortable. Avoid giving advice (unless asked) or telling them how they should feel.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to a caregiver support group, either through a local organization or online.
  • Ask if they would like to talk with a survivor who has been in their shoes. Locally, the Cancer Wellness Center of Western New York can help make those connections. Roswell Park’s online community is another good way for patients and caregivers to find someone who knows firsthand what it’s like. 
  • Stay in touch. Check in regularly during treatment and beyond. Many patients say they stop hearing from friends after an initial wave of support. Keep sending notes, but don’t expect responses.
  • Help them focus on caring for themselves through sleep, exercise, relaxation, healthy eating, and taking medications on schedule.
  • Provide comfort. Hold their hand, offer blankets or scarves if they feel chilly, do deep breathing with them to lower distress, and tell them you love them and will stay with them on this journey.
  • Provide distraction: laughter is wonderful medicine.

Practical Acts

  • Help schedule and manage medical appointments. Find out whether they need to bring x-rays and medication lists.
  • Prepare and deliver a meal — or order a meal for delivery. Many local restaurants deliver through such services as Takeout Taxi.
  • When you’re shopping, text the patient (or caregiver) and ask whether they need anything.
  • Hire a service to clean their house, or offer to do it yourself.
  • Before you visit, ask if they are up for it. Bring snacks, a craft you can do together, or a movie. If they are feeling well enough, take them on an outing.
  • Drive them to appointments and offer to go in with them. If it’s a doctor’s appointment, take notes for them. Sit with them during chemotherapy appointments.
  • Discuss fun “pick-me-ups” and then make the arrangements — for a manicure or massage, for example. Buy some new books or magazines, or buy a CD or download their favorite music or relaxing sound effects onto their listening device.
  • Tend to children, dogs, plants, bill-paying, emails — whatever needs attention.

Take your cues from your loved one. Some days they may withdraw; other days they will want you at their side. Let them know you are their friend and ally every day.

Information on this page is provided by Roswell Park’s Patient Education Department. Questions? Comments? Please call 716-845-8784.