Valérie Fernandez

By Valérie Fernandez

May 10, 2016


Cancer: How to Help Without Offending

Article revised on 12 June 2017

What to say? What to do? It’s not always easy to know how to act around someone with cancer. In spite of our good intentions, we may feel uneasy.

One thing for certain, everyone reacts and copes differently with this devastating diagnosis. We should set our preconceived ideas aside to be open-minded and a good listener. That way, we can gain a better understanding of the person’s specific needs.

From moral support to concrete actions, the help you offer can take various forms.

8 things to keep in mind, if you want to help a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer

• Be a good listener: This means being attentive to the person’s emotions and thoughts. Some people prefer to carry on as normal, while others feel the need to talk about it. Be attentive to the person’s needs, and act accordingly.

• Be sensitive to moods: It is normal for someone who’s ill to feel frustrated or grouchy. Don’t be blindly optimistic. Listen and be open-minded in more difficult times.

• Help in practical ways: It’s easier to help by doing something. Here are some everyday things you might be able to do to help out: repairs, babysitting, cooking, transportation, housework, etc.

If giving a gift, think about what might make the person feel good or help with something practical: Remember that the best gift rarely costs a lot but is one that comes from the heart.

• Don’t assume you know best: Before acting, check to see if your help would be appropriate to the situation. Depending on how treatments are going, there may be new challenges to take into account. Also, needs may change.

• Maintain confidentiality: Someone who tells you he or she has been diagnosed with cancer may want you to keep that information to yourself. Don’t tell anyone else unless the person says that this is okay.

• Be there for the long haul: On being diagnosed with cancer, a person may receive many offers of help and support. These may fall away over time. Think about what you can do to be there throughout a long, drawn-out battle with cancer, and even afterwards.

• Get the facts: Many resources are made available to the friends and relatives of cancer patients. These resources provide loads of advice on ways you can lend a hand during the different stages of the disease.

Support… for everyone!

A loved one’s diagnosis of cancer can send a shock wave down our spine. We, of course, rally around the person to provide all the help we can during this difficult time.

However, family members, loved ones, friends and co-workers may also need support or just want to talk. For this reason, a large support network is there to assist cancer patients and the people they care about.

For more information on the resources available in your area, visit the Canadian Cancer Society’s website:

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