It’s important to understand that there is no right or wrong way of speaking to someone about their diagnosis. If you want to help someone close to you who is going through this hard time, just being there for support can be all that matters.

Being a good listener doesn’t mean you need all the right answers, but here are a few tips that could help you support someone close to you.


Keep it simple:

Keeping the conversation simple is the most effective way to have a comfortable conversation. They might not want to talk about the diagnosis or treatment they are going through. ‘Normal’ small talk can be reassuring to your relative or friend; it can take their mind off what they body is currently going through.

Keep an open mind:

Your relative or friend will no doubt be going through a whole range of emotions and may not feel the way you expect. Try to not second guess how you think they will feel and don’t make judgements. Allow them to be honest about their feelings.

Get some privacy:

This will help you both relax and reduce all distractions. It’s important to give your loved one your full attention, as this will help them feel they are being heard and they’re not alone.

Allow them to be honest with their emotions:

There might be times when your loved one is angry or needs a shoulder to cry on. Let them vent and keep listening without judging.

Encourage them to get the support they need:

Wessex Cancer Trust specialist counsellors are on hand to help deal with the emotional impact of cancer, and our complementary therapies aim to improve well-being, help with pain management and increase self-confidence. If you think your friend could benefit from our free services, you could offer to visit a support centre with them for the first time.


Be afraid to make contact:

Your friend may want to talk, but not know where to start. It’s important to reach out and not be afraid that you will say the wrong thing.

Use clichés:

Even with the best of intentions saying things like ‘you’ll be fine’, or ‘it could be worse’, is never a good idea and can seem disinterested or a bit tactless. It’s OK to not have the answer; sometimes listening is the important part. Also try to avoid words such as 'victim' or 'sufferer' as this might not be how people see themselves. 

Talk about other people’s experiences:

We all know someone who has had cancer and may feel that sharing their story will help. However everyone’s cancer journey is different and other people’s experiences may not be relevant or could cause panic or upset.

Be afraid to laugh:

Your friend or relative might not want to talk about cancer all the time and may actually enjoy some light relief from their situation. Don’t be afraid to laugh and share humour if the time is right.

Make vague offers:

Saying ''If there’s anything I can do to help” isn’t always the best approach. If you want to help, why not offer to do something tangible, such as doing the food shop or mowing the lawn?

Think that the end of treatment means everything goes back to normal:

Even when treatment is successful, your friend may need support to get over the physical and emotional effects of their cancer experience. Cancer can affect many parts of someone life, including relationships, self esteem and going back to work. Make sure your loved one is aware you are there to support them as long as they need you. 

Support for you

It’s also important to remember that you might need support too. Wessex Cancer Trust helps anyone affected by a cancer diagnosis, including friends, family members and carers so please do get in touch or visit your nearest centre for support.

Online course

If you feel like you could benefit from more support with talking about cancer, you can try an online course. You’ll learn how to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle changes, access local services or visit their doctor promptly if they notice changes to their body. You’ll develop a personal plan for talking about cancer and where to find reliable information.

Register for an online course