Ideas to Support Someone Going Through Cancer or a Serious Illness
What you can do: Gifts, Notes, and Calls
Make sure your friend knows that they’re important to you. Show that you still care for your friend despite changes in what they can do or how they look.
- Send an excellent comfort gift. Shop Now
- Send brief, frequent notes or texts, or make short, regular calls. Include photos, kids’ drawings, silly cards, and cartoons.
- Ask questions.
- End the call or note with “I’ll be in touch soon,” and follow through.
- Call at times that work best for your friend or set times for them to call you.
- Return their messages right away.
- Check in with the person who helps with their daily care (caregiver) to see what else they might need.
What you can do: Visits
Cancer can be very isolating. Try to spend time with your friend – you may be a welcome distraction and help them feel like they did before cancer became a major focus of their life.
- Always wash your hands before you see them, and only if you are healthy. Remember that their immune system is compromised during treatment.
- Always call before you visit. Be understanding if your friend can’t see you at that time.
- Schedule a visit that allows you to give physical and emotional support for the caregiver, too. Maybe you can arrange to stay with your friend while the caregiver gets out of the house for a couple of hours.
- Make short, regular visits rather than long, infrequent ones. Understand that your friend might not want to talk, but they may not like being alone either.
- Begin and end the visit with a touch, a hug, or a handshake.
- Be understanding if the family asks you to leave.
- Always refer to your next visit so your friend can look forward to it.
- Offer to bring a snack or treat to share so your visit doesn’t impose on the caregiver.
- Try to visit at times other than weekends or holidays, when others may visit. Time can seem the same to a house-bound patient. A Tuesday morning can be just as lonely as a Saturday night.
- Take your own needlework, crossword puzzle, or book, and keep your friend company while they doze or watch TV.
- Share music they enjoy, watch their favorite TV show, or watch a movie with your friend.
- Read sections of a book or newspaper, or find topics of interest online and summarize them for your friend.
- Offer to take a short walk with your friend if they are up to it.
- Don’t be afraid to touch, hug, or shake hands with your friend.
What you can do: Conversation, Walks, and Games
Many people worry that they don’t know what to say to someone with cancer. Try to remember that the most important thing is not what you say – it’s that you’re there and willing to listen. Try to hear and understand how your friend feels. Let them know that you’re open to talking whenever they feel like it. Or, if the person doesn’t feel like talking, let them know that’s OK, too.
- Gear the conversation to your friend’s attention span so they don’t feel overwhelmed or guilty about not being able to talk.
- Help your friend focus on whatever brings out good feelings, such as sports, religion, travel, or pets.
- Help your friend keep an active role in the friendship by asking advice, opinions, and questions – even if you don’t get the response you expect.
- Ask your friend if they’re having any discomfort. Suggest new ways to be more comfortable, such as using more pillows or moving furniture.
- Give honest compliments, such as “You look rested today.”
- Support your friend’s feelings. Allow them to be negative, withdrawn, or silent. Resist the urge to change the subject.
- Don’t urge your friend to fight the disease if they feel it’s too hard to do it.
- Don’t tell them how strong they are; they may feel the need to act strong even when they’re sad or exhausted.
- Be sure to include your friend when talking to others in the room.
- Assume that your friend can hear you even if they seem to be asleep or dazed.
- Don’t offer medical advice or your opinions on things like diet, vitamins, and herbal therapies.
- Don’t remind them of past behaviors that might be related to the illness, such as drinking or smoking. Some people feel guilty over those things.
Ask your friend questions. Ask for their advice and opinions
What you can do: Errands and Projects
Many people want to help friends facing a difficult time. Keep in mind that wanting to help and offering to be there for your friend is what matters most.
- Take care of any urgent errands your friend or the caregiver needs right away.
- Run an errand for the caregiver; it’s as helpful as an errand for your friend.
- Your friend may appreciate it more if you take care of frequent, scheduled errands, rather than fewer ones that take a lot of time.
- Look for ways to help on a regular basis.
- Plan projects in advance and start them only after talking with the caregiver.