Supporting Someone with Cancer: The Best and Worst Ways to Help

Providing physical and emotional support to your loved ones with cancer isn’t as easy as it sounds. The simplest gesture may come off as hurtful. The sincerest words may sometimes sound insensitive. Even the most genuine act may do more damage than good if you’re not too careful. 

As feelings tighten and lifestyles change, you’ll need to expand your horizons and adapt to the unique dynamic resulting from a cancer diagnosis. Below is a brief guide that’ll help communicate your love and support to your loved ones with cancer in a healthier manner. Read on.

How does cancer affect a person physically and emotionally?

Cancer doesn’t just affect one physically. The condition also gives rise to varying emotional, mental, and social struggles. Specifically, the pain and discomfort caused by the illness may affect the mood and personality of the patient. They may become more sensitive and easily angered as they face stress and deal with different physical and emotional symptoms.

To add up to that, other forms of physical and emotional difficulties are expected to arise even during treatment or medication. Common methods, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, may cause extreme mood swings and feelings of physical and mental tiredness. Naturally, all these add up to the challenges surrounding the patients and their loved ones.

When one is not too careful, they may even communicate the wrong idea to the people they care about. The simplest topics may cause discomfort and conflict, and the smallest act may trigger frustrations and hostility between the parties. Naturally, some affected individuals can’t help but ask: Is there a proper way to show support to someone who has cancer without the risk of relaying the wrong message? Are there specific words to say, or is it better to say nothing at all?

What are the helpful things to say to a cancer patient?

Cancer is a serious condition. Hence, it’s natural to get overwhelmed after hearing the news of your loved one getting diagnosed with it. As much as we want to be there and show our support to someone with cancer, the magnitude of the situation may sometimes leave us lost for words and unsure about what to say. If we’re not too careful, the conversation may turn awkward. Unknowingly, our words may even hurt or offend the person. To avoid such situations, here are a few things to keep in mind before speaking:

  • Ask them how they are doing

A simple question such as “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?” is a safe way to start a conversation and show support to someone with cancer. This will allow you to know whether the person is fit or in the mood to engage with you or is generally tired and might need more rest. 

At the same time, their response will give you an idea about why they might be acting the way they do at the moment. They might tell you where it hurts or how they feel or think at that very instance. This is a great way to let them talk about their own experience and share what they want to share without putting them in a tight spot. Moreover, it lets them know that you’re interested to know about their condition and care about their wellbeing.

  • Let them know what you’re able to help with

Nausea, pain, and fatigue are among the common cancer symptoms. Naturally, people diagnosed with the said condition may struggle to do some tasks that ordinary people might not have any problem accomplishing. Hence, letting your loved ones with cancer know that you can help them with certain tasks and activities may grant them quick relief.

The gesture doesn’t need to be grand or big or utterly heroic. Doing the dishes, setting up their bed, or simply organizing their meds would be a great help and would express your love for them. Instead of asking them what you can do to help, try offering a specific form of support, such as preparing the meal or walking the dog. Practice using the phrase “let me help you with…” instead of “what do you want me to do?”

  • Tell them you love them.

Showing our love and support doesn’t need to be complicated. While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, there are still gaps that need to be filled with concrete expressions and sentences. Sometimes, a simple “I love you” or “I care for you” is just what completes the formula, especially when paired with actions.

Your declaration doesn’t even need to be long or profound. Just be honest with how you feel. Sometimes, three words are enough to give support that can last a lifetime.

What are the unhelpful things to say to a cancer patient?

  • Avoid packaging it as a “blessing” or that it happens “for a reason”

While we may want to uplift our friends or family members diagnosed with cancer, it’s irresponsible to package their condition as something good or God-sent. While some promising developments might come after a cancer diagnosis, it’s not for you to declare that a person’s medical condition is a blessing. Instead of packaging their sickness as something good, focus on sharing encouraging stories about cancer survivors or showing your support.

  • Don’t assume you know what they’re going through

Every cancer experience is different as every person’s day-to-day life is different. Instead of saying that you know how they feel or understand what they’re going through, let them speak about their experiences. Their stories and struggles are not yours to tell. Learn to listen and avoid comparisons.

  • Avoid false positivity

Instead of saying “you’ll be fine” or “don’t worry,” it’s best to let cancer patients vent their frustrations and worries. Let them be open about what scares them and what stresses them. 

The Bottom Line

A cancer diagnosis is sure to shake established boundaries and relationships. As emotions swell and routines change, people with serious medical conditions will become more sensitive and easily stressed. Knowing what to say and avoid will help you avoid future conflicts and misunderstandings.

If you notice extreme mood changes or intense feelings of pessimism in your loved one diagnosed with cancer, it’s best to see a doctor right away. Here at New Hope Unlimited, we provide alternative cancer treatments that aim to help improve the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of cancer patients. Schedule an appointment today!


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