Helping a Loved One Going Through Cancer Treatment

This practical and informative blog outlines some tips on how to help your loved one going through cancer treatment. Thank you to Scott Sanders for contributing to the Survive & Thrive blog! Check out Cancer Well for more resources and support.


How To Best Help A Loved One Going Through Cancer Treatment

When a loved one gets a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know what to do. You want to help in any way you can, and yet you worry that you’ll say or do the wrong thing. Even more frustrating is the feeling that there is really nothing you can do, that the situation is completely out of your control. 

However, there are things you can do to be helpful. These will not cure their illness or accelerate their treatment, but can make life easier and more enjoyable for them. 

Support Them With Everyday Tasks

Cancer and the accompanying treatments can absorb an overwhelming amount of energy, leaving little to deal with the everyday needs of running a household. Ask your loved one about any ways in which you could help them handle shopping, cooking, cleaning, or general errands. 

For instance, you could dedicate an afternoon to getting groceries and helping them prep meals for the rest of the week. Cook For Your Life has an entire section on make-ahead foods you can make to make eating easier during chemotherapy, or you could simply learn how to put together an effective meal prep plan.

Help With Admin.

Cancer treatment involves a lot of making (and keeping) appointments, liaising with doctors, and keeping track of medicines. Offer to be the go-to person for any cancer-related admin - you can make calls, drive them to appointments, organize paperwork, and coordinate any fundraising. 

Remember that if you can’t help with travel to appointments, you can help by arranging cancer transportation through programs like Road to Recovery

Be There To Talk - But Don’t Force It

Many people can get anxious at the idea of talking to someone with cancer, but one of the worst things you can do is avoid conversation altogether. Let them know that you are there to talk whenever they want to, and do not shy away from difficult discussions because they are uncomfortable. Your loved one is going through a hard time - the least you can do is let them open up if they want to.

On the other hand, do not force difficult conversations on them. You shouldn’t ignore their condition, but reminding them constantly of it can push them away from you. Think about how you would like to be treated if it was you. If you need guidance, check out this guide to the do’s and don’ts of talking to someone with cancer.

Avoid “Fighting” Language

It is common to describe cancer treatment as a “battle” or something to “conquer”. We describe cancer patients as “brave” or “heroes”, and lament when they “lose the fight”. While this language comes from good intentions, many cancer patients and survivors are uncomfortable with its implications. Think of the language you are using to talk about cancer, and listen if your loved one expresses any frustrations with it. 

Keep An Eye On Painkillers

Unless they (or a doctor) specifically ask you to, you shouldn’t be closely monitoring your loved one’s treatment. Chances are they are following the doctors’ instructions, know what they are doing and don’t want someone hovering over their shoulder checking their every move. 

That said, you should be aware of the signs of painkiller addiction, which according to include changes in personality and appearance (personal hygiene, looking tired or ill), withdrawal, and blackouts. Opioid addiction is a real risk for those undergoing cancer treatment, and the last thing anyone wants is for your loved one to have to overcome a substance abuse disorder after battling cancer.

Overall, the best thing you can do to help a loved one going through cancer is to just be a good friend. Be kind, patient, attentive, but most of all be the same person you always were. Simply by being there for them and preserving your relationship, you can provide a much-needed sense of stability that could make all the difference during treatment.

Wendy Campbell