Breast cancer, leukaemia, lung cancer, melanoma, – cancer comes in many different forms, with many different symptoms. Every cancer patient’s experience is different and therefore, generalizing what kind of support they might need and wish for is not possible. According to research, cancer patients do need support from friends and relatives. 

When hearing about loved ones’ cancer diagnosis, you might not know what to say or do. This is normal. Here you can find some tips from patients themselves on how to talk to someone with cancer:  

  • “This must be a tough time for you.”
  • “I can’t imagine how you feel.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re going through something like this.”
  • “I’m here for you if you want to talk.”
  • “I know staying positive can be hard, how are you really?”

Emotional support 

The statements above express emotional support, show that you care, and they can count on you – make sure to bring across that no matter the changes the diagnosis might bring in their ability to do certain things or their appearance, you still accept them the way they are.

Be a good listener. To support someone, it helps to understand their emotions and feelings. After receiving a diagnosis, it is absolutely okay to be negative, withdrawn, or silent. Stay with your loved one’s feelings, just be there in their fear and uncertainty. 

Practical support 

Of course, you can also offer practical support. This can sound like: 

  • “Do you want a lift to your appointment?”
  • “I can drop some dinner over tonight.”
  • “Let me take the children to school and pick them up later.”
  • “I will come on Saturday to clean and do your laundry!”

Before you visit, make sure to call or text and get permission to do so. 

Spending time together 

Support after a cancer diagnosis, during and after treatment can also simply look like: 

  • “I’m coming over for a short walk this afternoon.”
  • “I saw a really good film the other day, you might want to watch it.”
  • “I can talk about me, if you like.”

Normal life still happens. Remember that a cancer patient might not want to speak about and focus on their diagnosis or treatment all the time. Don’t be afraid to talk about normal life and share a joke sometimes if the situation feels right. You might brighten up their day. 

Short, regular visits are worth more than infrequent, long ones as they show your consistency and reliability in this difficult time. 

Some cancer patients just need to not feel alone. Take your own crossword puzzle or book and get comfortable just being there while they take a nap or watch TV. 

Don’t be afraid to hug and touch. Sometimes a tap on the shoulder or a handshake might be all they need to not feel like an outcast. 

Make sure to be genuine with your feelings. You are human. Supporting a loved one with cancer can be tough – it is okay to cry if you feel like and admit:  

  • “I don’t know what to say.”

Things to avoid 

Your support offer might be rejected. Don’t push them to share their experience but reassure that you are there for them and they can speak to you once they feel like. If they get angry or upset, don’t take it personally.

Don’t assume that you know how they are feeling because you simply don’t know. Also, offering advice they haven’t asked for is not a good idea. 

Cancer patients might often hear things like ‘You need to be strong and positive to get through this!’. Avoid putting pressure on them using statements like that. It is okay to not be okay and strong all the time. 

Whenever you are sick or don’t feel okay, avoid getting near anyone with cancer as their immune system is weak already – you might call instead. 

Being supported yourself 

Very important: While supporting a loved one with cancer, make sure that you are supported as well! Accompanying a cancer patient on their (sometimes very long) journey or even during their last weeks or days is tough. You will have to process your own feelings and thoughts.

Please take care of yourself and reach out if you need emotional support. 

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Franziska Richter is a transcultural counsellor with Willingness Team, offering counselling sessions to individuals and couples. She is particularly interested in sexuality, relationship issues, trauma and general mental health.