How to Support a Loved One With Cancer

Community // December 2, 2015


After a friend or family member reveals the devastating news of a cancer diagnosis such as mesothelioma, it can be difficult to know how to react appropriately and how to navigate the relationship moving forward. You’ll likely wonder what to do, or what to say. Above all, the most important role you can begin to play is that of a supporter.

Support can be shown in a number of different ways, and will often change depending on things like your loved one’s current mood, state of mind, needs, and so on. There are a number of resources for families and caregivers; here are some ideas and things to keep in mind when supporting or caring for a loved one with cancer:

  1. Don’t ask if you can help. Just help. It is often very difficult for someone with cancer to feel comfortable asking for help or admitting that they need it, especially when it comes to the routine kind of things. So, go ahead and do things without asking when appropriate — help with housework while they’re at an appointment, or make sure their lawn is mowed, for example.
  2. But, ask before showing up. Cancer and treatment can take your friend or family member’s day from okay to unbearable in a moment, so make sure to touch base with them before stopping over to see them. Send a few text messages or call them up and see how they’re doing, then take it from there. Let them know that saying “not today” is absolutely fine.
  3. Reach out to someone else. Hopefully, your friend or loved one has a network of caring friends and family and a dedicated caregiver. Get in touch with them and see what kinds of things are already being taken care, what things could use more support, etc. Find out what their treatment plan is, so you can avoid things like making a dinner they can’t eat. This is also a good way to find out how your loved one is doing without them needing to tell a number of different people every day.
  4. Be yourself. It’s important that your relationship stay, for the most part, what it was before. Of course, there will be an adjustment period for the both of you, but try not to treat them too differently. Don’t disappear, but also don’t force yourself to be around day-in and day-out unless that’s the kind of support they’re looking for from you (and you can manage doing it).
  5. Communicate. In that vein, have an open and honest conversation regarding your desire to be a source of support. If you’re not sure how to react or what to do, tell them that. Ask them what kinds of things would mean the most, and let them know what you can realistically do and commit to. As with any relationship, honest communication is key.

Everyone and every illness is different, and you know your loved one best. These ideas are jumping off points, but the most important things are the honest communication, and being there in the best way you know how.

Do you have a loved one with cancer? What kinds of things did you do to show your support? What have you learned from your experience?

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Written By Tonya Nelson Tonya Nelson

Tonya Nelson is an experienced writer and editor, who has published on a wide variety of topics, particularly in the health field. Her bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University sparked her curiosity for writing stories about environmental and medical issues. As the Managing Editor, Tonya oversees the content development process, ensuring every article and informational page published adheres to MAA Center’s editorial guidelines.