Supporting a Family Member with a New Cancer Diagnosis

There’s no way around it, learning about a diagnosis of a family member with cancer is hard. You might feel confused about what to do for them. You may even experience feelings of fear and anxiety, but none more than they are feeling, themselves. Here are some ideas on how to best support your loved ones as they are coming to terms with the news that they will soon have to undergo treatment for cancer. 

A listening ear and a helping hand

When you first hear that a loved one has cancer, you might not know exactly what to say or how to help. Luckily, you don’t have to immediately know right off the bat. It can often be the most helpful to someone if you choose to listen to their thoughts and fears, rather than jumping into a conversation about what to do next. When you pause and listen to their concerns, the next move will become apparent. You may observe that they need help with tasks around the house. Don’t wait for them to ask you for help – offer it before they reach out. This can make a huge difference for them as they navigate their treatment program.

Give advice, but only when you’re asked

It’s natural to want to give advice to our friends and family members. Oftentimes, it comes from our life experience; We may know of a friend who went through the same thing, and want to share what worked for them. One of the most common complaints from cancer patients, however, is the well-meaning advice that is shared with them, almost non-stop, from the people who care for them. While it may not directly harm them, it may feel overwhelming to hear about so many different treatments from a multitude of sources. Trust that they are working with their doctors to discover the best treatment plan for them. If they ask for your thoughts on an aspect of their health plans, know that they must value your opinion greatly. 

Help make plans for long term support

Another common observation from cancer patients is that they receive a flood of support from well-wishers in the weeks and months following their initial announcements about their diagnosis, but it soon wanes as people return to their daily lives. Cancer treatments can often last several months and even years, so it is difficult for those undergoing these procedures to feel their support slowly fade. If you’re wanting to maintain your aid to your loved one during this time, set up a network of ongoing support with friends and family to alternate providing help around the house, lunch dates, and cooked meals. A small group of dedicated volunteers can bring joy into a cancer patient’s life year-round.