A cancer diagnosis is a shock to the patient, family, and friends. The patient and loved ones are reeling from the news. Once the initial shock passes, friends and family will ask themselves how they can help. The medical aspects of the diagnosis are best left to the experts. But there are many ways a person can show solidarity with cancer patients.

Offer Emotional Support

Offering appropriate emotional support is vital to the patient and caregivers. Following are guidelines on how to help.

Respect what is happening. Everyone’s illness is different and what works for one person will not work for others. Ask before taking any action. Many friends and acquaintances’ first reactions may include making meals or offering baked goods. However, the cancer patient may have special dietary restrictions or are experiencing an aversion to certain foods. Asking before acting displays concern about what is best for the patient.

Listen to what the cancer patient says about what is happening. This is not the time to tell horror stories about other cancer patients. Controlling your body language is also important. People can tell when words and body language do not match. Practice active listening by minimizing distractions and providing appropriate feedback to the patient.

Support the caregivers too. The cancer patient may feel additional stress worrying about their loved ones and caregivers. Caregivers may have to provide support for weeks or months. Encourage the caregiver to take care of themselves also. Offering to sit with the patient or take them to appointments or treatments can be extremely helpful. If the caregiver accompanies the patient to every treatment, perhaps packing a lunch for them would be useful. Sometimes helping the caregiver can be the best thing you can do to ease the stress of the cancer patient.

Tasks and Gift Giving

Helping with chores or other projects can help. What tasks can be done efficiently may depend upon whether the person trying to help is close or far away.

Living close by means helpers can complete tasks like sitting with the patient, babysitting children, taking care of pets, and providing meals. A friend can drive the patient to appointments or treatments. Completing yard work or laundry can help. When a friend is nearby, being observant about what assistance is most needed and reacting quickly can be invaluable.

Even if a friend lives far away, they can be helpful. Financial issues may be of great concern to the patient and caregivers. A far-away helper can research or contact financial assistance agencies and gather information. Is the friend or loved one an active Facebook user? Creating a Facebook page that keeps everyone up to date on what’s happening may be helpful. Perhaps a cancer support group or patient advocacy center is needed. Researching these resources saves time and stress for the patient and family.

Whether a person is near or far, creative and thoughtful gift-giving is a possibility. Streaming or music memberships may be helpful. Taking the time to compose a personal playlist may be welcome. If the cancer patient is an exerciser and feels well enough, sending a personal trainer or yoga instructor to the home may return normalcy to the patient’s routine. Meal delivery services or grocery store coupons with home delivery are usually welcome. Some people crave distraction so books, magazines, games, playing cards, or puzzles may appeal to the patient. Is it holiday time? Cleaning and decorating the home may be just the thing. Some people undergoing chemotherapy enjoy comforting items like soft blankets, satin pillowcases, candles, or aromatherapy. If sleep is an issue, weighted blankets, eye masks and sound machines can help. If they are struggling with hair loss, headwraps or chemo hats might be appreciated. Many helpful gifts are available to the person who thinks through what might be beneficial.

What Not to do

Do not share horror stories about cancer patients you have known or heard about. The cancer patient is frightened enough without hearing about terrible things that have happened to others. Do not buy candy, sweets, or other gifts the cancer patient may not be able to tolerate. Perfumes or scented products like flowers may make the patient ill. Do not offer platitudes or minimize the seriousness of the diagnosis. Do not judge cancer and declare it a good or bad cancer. Do not ask for details the patient may not want to share. The physical impact of cancer and treatments are not anyone else’s concern unless the patient initiates the conversation. Do not suggest alternative treatments. You are not a doctor and the patient and loved ones need to rely on medical professionals they trust.

A cancer diagnosis is devastating for everyone. Support and care can make an enormous positive impact on the cancer patient and the patient’s family. As the above information shows, even though financial and other resources may be limited, a concerned friend can help. All these positive actions can help ease the trauma of any cancer diagnosis.