5 ways you can support a loved one with cancer


by Susan Sayles, MS, RN, OCN

Mar 12, 2018

In the face of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis, you may wonder how you could possibly help. You want to support them through their battle, but you just don’t know how. As they try to cope with the diagnosis, surgeries and treatments, here are five ways you can support and encourage your loved one in their cancer journey.


You, the caregiver, can only do so much. The caregiver cannot heal the cancer. The caregiver cannot alter the need for treatment or lessen the side effects that may occur. The caregiver also cannot answer the “why” questions or prevent depressed moments or frustrations.

But the caregiver can stay present, honoring the process with respect by actively listening to your loved one and their needs.

Stay engaged.

To love someone well through a cancer diagnosis, you need to stay engaged. It may be hard to watch your loved one make this difficult journey, but stay close. Some people will need more support than others based on their personality and individual circumstances.

Ask your loved one how, and how often, they need your attention. Ensure that they know they can always call on you.

Build a community.

Create a community to help support your loved one. Enlist a group of individuals to bring food, provide transportation or sit with them during chemo treatments.

As the saying goes, it truly “takes a village” to help someone through the cancer journey.

No comparison stories.

It can be hard to know what to talk about with your loved one facing cancer, but refrain from retelling an old story about someone else’s cancer experience. Keep the focus on your loved one and helping them stay as positive as possible about their cancer journey. They do not need to be reminded of a bad outcome from another time, or feel pressure to have the same experience someone else did. Let their cancer journey be their own.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle.

For some, a cancer diagnosis is an opportunity to change their lifestyle for the better. Let the focus become healthy eating, daily exercise, mindful meditation and healing touch. Encourage your loved one to move through the cancer journey by planning for the best, healthiest future possible.

Find more resources available for cancer patients and caregivers.

About the Author

Susan Sayles, MS, RN, OCN, is the manager of the Patient Resource Center at the Baylor Scott & White Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center – Dallas. After being a nurse for 22 years and an oncology nurse for 12, Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. Her treatment consisted of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Now, she encourages other breast cancer patients, telling them, “Don’t ever concern yourself with if you can beat cancer, just walk through the process until you have.”

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