Being there for someone affected by cancer

It can be scary to find out someone close to us has cancer. As well as worrying about them, it can evoke unfamiliar thoughts and feelings in us, too. And what if we say the wrong thing and make them feel worse? Wouldn’t it just be better to avoid the subject all together? In our experience, ignoring the topic rarely makes things easier for anyone.

It’s important to be mindful of the language we use. Find out why, here. Rather than offering simplistic solutions or attempting to minimise their pain, we can take a more empathetic and compassionate approach.

Here are some ideas:

Be honest

Don’t be afraid to make contact. And if you don’t know what to say, say so. It’s more important that they know you’re there for them. Phrases like, ‘I’m here and I’m listening’ or ‘take all the time you need’ can help them feel comforted and understood.

Active listening

This is about creating a safe and non-judgemental space for someone to express their emotions. Allowing someone to speak openly without interruption and listening attentively to what they’re saying can be very powerful. By actively listening, we validate someone’s experiences and demonstrate their feelings are important and worthy of acknowledgement – often without saying much at all.

Be guided by them

Your relative or friend might not want to talk in depth about their diagnosis or treatment. Small talk and normal life can be reassuring.

Keen an open mind

Your friend or relative will, no doubt, be experiencing a whole range of emotions. Try not to second guess how you think they’re feeling. Allow them to be honest about their feelings, and know that all feelings are OK.

Avoid cliches

Even with the best intentions, saying things like ‘you’ll be fine’ or ‘it could be worse’ is rarely helpful because there’s never any guarantee that’ll be the case. Being there for someone could be about reminding them there’s support available. Maybe you could signpost the support you’re aware of, or look for it together.

Offer practical support

If we say, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ it can be hard for someone to take it up, because they might not want to ask or put on you, yet practical support can make a significant and tangible difference. It could be doing the food shop, moving the lawn, or accompanying them to appointments, for example.

There’s no right time to feel better

Many people tell us they started to feel lost and isolated when their treatment ended. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps it’s because they’re ‘expected’ to feel better or because they’re scared of cancer returning, or struggling with the side-effects of their treatment. Cancer can affect many parts of their life, including relationships, self-esteem and work. Keep checking in with them, to see how they’re feeling.

Gift them something thoughtful

Our experienced team has put together a list of twenty thoughtful gift ideas that someone living with cancer might like to receive – both at Christmas and throughout the year.

We’re here for you, if you’re supporting someone through their cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Click here to find out how