Jenn Ryan
Jenn Ryan
January 17, 2024 ·  6 min read

Here Are 10 Genuine Ways You Can Help Someone Who’s Receiving Cancer Treatment

We’ve all had the experience where a loved one is going through a tough time, whether it’s an illness, a death in the family, or another type of hardship. When these things happen, we want to do something to help them.

In many instances, people say, “Call me if you need anything”, or “Is there anything you need?” only to be met with, “No, thank you, I appreciate it.”

Some people simply aren’t comfortable telling you they need something, or maybe they need so many things done that telling you every single one of them would seem needy and overwhelming.

It’s important to find a genuine way to support your friend, family, or loved one if you feel called to do so. In these instances, don’t ask what you can do to help, just do it.

MD Anderson Cancer Center asked people on Facebook to share their experiences with helping things people have done to support them during their cancer treatment. Here’s what their responses were. 

1.Grocery Shop or Prepare Meals

Do the grocery shopping for someone who’s going through cancer therapy, or have groceries delivered to their house. People have also shared that bringing prepared meals or having takeout delivered was also hugely helpful during this difficult time.

You can also organize a bunch of friends and family to bring meals for several days or weeks while the patient is undergoing treatment or recovering from their treatment.

2. Take Care of the House

Keeping up with the house can feel like an impossible task for someone going through cancer treatment. Between paying bills, doing laundry and dishes, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the lawn, kids, and pets, there are so many things to do.

Patients have shared that someone helping with all the little but important tasks they would normally do takes a big burden off their shoulders. Whether you come to walk the dog every day, do a load of laundry, or mow the lawn, assisting with the house can be a great help.

3. Visit (and Be Present)

Come by for a visit, but be sure not to stay too long, as cancer patients may be fatigued and not enjoy longer visits as much as they used to. The only exception to this is when they ask you to stay longer.

Bring a snack, coffee, or tea when you come by. Sit with them and listen to them, being careful not to offer advice unless asked. This is called compassionate listening, and is a very powerful practice.

Acknowledge their concerns, let them be upset if needed, and if they don’t feel like talking, you can sit with them and simply be present, which can be powerful in and of itself.

Days can feel long when you’re recovering from an illness or spending time in the hospital, so even a short visit from a familiar face can make the day that much better and go by that much easier.

4.  Give the Primary Caregiver a Break

Taking care of a friend or family member who’s going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be exhausting. Offer to give their primary  caregiver, whether it’s a spouse, parent, or sibling, a break.

Send them away for a massage, a night out, or even a weekend away. In their place, you can take your loved one to doctor’s appointments, help with the house, organize medications, cook, clean, and more.

Giving their caregivers a break can make a huge impact and give that person the energy they need to continue taking care of your loved one.

5. Accompany Them to Appointments

Go to doctor’s appointments with your loved one, including checkups, scans, or therapy. Patients may not say or reveal they’re worried about these appointments, but even after their treatment has ended, patients can have a lot of stress and anxiety surrounding doctor’s appointments.

Going with them can make a big difference, and if your loved allows it, you can take notes during their medical appointments. Information can be overwhelming, or they may not remember everything that was said, so have notes for when they may need them later.

6. Help with the Kids

Taking care of children is a chore in and of itself, let alone when you’re going through an illness or receiving treatment for cancer.

Drive the kids to and from school, take them to sports practice, assist with homework, or have them over to play or even sleep over. This can help ease their stress and the stress of their parents!

7. Make a Prayer Shawl

My grandmother does this practice at her church—she and a group of women knit what they call “prayer shawls” for people going through illness or another hardship.

Here’s how it works—you knit a scarf, or a shawl or cap, and have it blessed by a priest. You give it to your loved one and let them know it was made with love, faith, and blessings. These items can be comforting and give people strength to keep going, knowing that others are thinking of them.

Others have said it’s helpful to have people or congregations pray for them for similar reasons—for spiritual people, the power of intention or prayer can be very meaningful.

8. Stay Connected

If you live far away from your loved one or aren’t able to see them frequently, it’s still important to stay connected, and that connection will be very meaningful to them during this difficult time.

Text, call, or email them on a regular basis to let them know you’re thinking of them. Send them a card or a fun gift or treats in the mail. Staying connected and expressing concern and empathy can mean the world to people going through a difficult time.

9. Collect Cards and Gifts

One patient voiced a particularly fun and uplifting idea. A friend or relative of hers collected cards and gifts from people she knew. She then presented the items in a large bag to the patient and instructed him or her to open one each day in the morning.

This idea gave the patient a wonderful way to start their day and to know that people were thinking of them and wishing them well. The power of positivity and hope is not to be underestimated!

10. Don’t Treat Them Differently

Remember that your loved one’s illness does not define them, and the last thing they want is to be treated as though it does. 

Don’t treat your friend or relative any differently because of their cancer diagnosis and treatment. Talk to them just like you did before while still, of course, acknowledging their fears, sadness, and concern over their illness. 

Tell jokes, laugh together, keep them updated on news, take them out to lunch. This will let them know that you don’t see them any differently and that they have your support and friendship throughout this difficult time.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Support

Remember, any love and support you provide can make a huge difference to someone going through cancer treatment. Whether your support cheers them up, gives them more energy, makes them laugh, or gives them the hope and motivation they need to keep going, you can help your loved one focus on healing and living life!