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The 5 Best/5 Worst Ways to Support a Loved One Facing Cancer

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

by Audrey Almquist

Co-Founder of

When a loved one tells you they have cancer, it's really hard to know what to do - or say. You know they are likely a giant ball of nerves, and naturally you will want to do whatever you can to make them feel better. But chances are, like them, you've never been through this before and could use some guidance. This short little guide is a great place to start.


1. Show up - and keep showing up. If they reach out and ask for your help with anything, try your best to accommodate their requests. Note: They may not be particularly good at asking for help directly so pay close attention to their concerns or complaints. You may need to improvise.

2. Check in often. Send a quick text message or give them a call. Ask how radiation went or how their work is treating them during everything. Ask how their spouse is coping. Allow them to share and then strategize ways you can help relieve them of some of their burden.

3. Keep track of the milestones. Finishing chemo is a big deal. Finishing radiation is a big deal. Their one year cancerversary is a big deal. Acknowledge these milestones in some way.

4. Offer help. Their dogs need walks. Kids need to play at the playground. Houses need to be cleaned. Meals need to be cooked. Bills need to be paid. All of life's little things that they could once easily handle are now much more challenging. If there is anything you can do to help, please offer.

5. Listen. Chances are they've got a lot of bottled up thoughts and emotions that really need to be released. Give them a safe place to say all their worst fears, craziest notions, and cynical jokes. Their tumor humor might throw you a curve ball, but go with it! They need to normalize the insanity that has become their present life. Don't judge, just listen. But also remember, its still okay to unload your own problems too. The best relationships strike a balance between sharing and listening. Treatment can last months or years even, so don't wait to confide or your relationship will feel one-sided.


1. Don't tell them about your aunt who died from the same thing. As humans our brain will instantly jump to all the ways we can relate to any incoming news or information we receive - which may include this little tidbit about your aunt. It's a natural way we bond with our fellow humans. But in this case, hold it in. Keep digging. And if you have an anecdote about someone who kicked cancer's ass, go with that story instead.

2. Don't disappear. Just because YOU are uncomfortable does not give you the right to ghost your loved one with cancer. I can't believe this needs to be said, but it happens. If you feel like it's been too long, suck it up buttercup and send a quick text. Apologize, ask how they are doing, and move forward.

3. Don't tout some alternative miracle treatment you found on the internet. They have a team of trustworthy, licensed, board certified, skilled professionals using proven treatments that have been thoroughly researched guiding them. No amount of acacia berries or cardamom seeds are going to be better than their prescribed treatment (and could potentially be quite dangerous).

4. Don't ignore or try to avoid the elephant in the room. Your person has cancer, it is front and center in their lives, and to ignore it altogether is to avoid a huge part of their present existence. That being said, don't make everything constantly about their cancer, but don't avoid it either. Read the room. By broaching the subject, you can help to create a safe space for them to fully express themselves. Balance is everything.

5. Don't share your germs. If you are sick, stay home, take care of yourself first. Your likely-immune-compromised loved one will not only accept this, but will likely appreciate it too. If you were supposed to help them with something specific, try your best to assist with finding your replacement. Then once you're better, make it up to them. You cannot pour from an empty pitcher and also don't want to cause more harm than good.

So when a loved one tells you they have cancer, be the best support person you can be. And if you need a little assistance, remember this short little guide is a great place to start.

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