Loved One Diagnosed

A cancer diagnosis often brings sadness, anger, confusion, and feelings of helplessness. These feelings make it important for the person with cancer to know that support and help are readily available. Many times, those closest to the person with cancer provide the most support. However, sometimes it may be difficult to know what to say and what not to say, how to be sensitive, and how to remain supportive at all times.

How to Support Loved Ones

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes it’s best to listen instead of leading the conversation. Let your friend or family member decide when it’s an appropriate time to talk, and let that person decide where to take the conversation.
  • Be patient. If you feel the need to ask questions, phrase your questions carefully. Keep in mind that people with cancer are often asked many questions by their friends and family members.
  • Remember to keep talking about all the usual and familiar topics; not every conversation needs to be about cancer.
  • Be respectful. Sometimes you may need to use your instincts to assess the needs of your friend or family member. Respect his or her need to be alone at times. He or she may need to vent frustrations or anger, which is normal. Try not to take it personally.
  • Help the person stay involved. Finding the right balance between being supportive and available while keeping things the same as before a cancer diagnosis is challenging. Some people with cancer cope best by staying involved and continuing old routines as much as possible. This approach may at times be impossible because of time constraints or a lack of energy and stamina due to the cancer or its treatment.
  • Be honest about your feelings but don’t overburden. Be sure to communicate what you’re feeling, but try to be brief in your explanations so as not to overburden and cause additional distress. If maintaining your composure is difficult, give yourself some time away to calm your feelings before addressing the situation again.
  • Provide active support. Your friend or family member with cancer will need both your emotional and physical support throughout their treatment. Suggest specific ways to help, such as running an errand, caring for the pets, driving your friend or family member to an appointment, or picking up the children from school. Be aware of this person’s needs and know that some people have a hard time asking for help.
  • Show support with your body language. Keep eye contact, listen attentively, and avoid distractions when involved in a conversation. Allow for periods of silence.
  • Be a “constant” in a changing world. Help the person you care about adjust to new routines and to relationships that may have changed. Assure your friend or family member with cancer that you are there.
  • Listen before giving advice. Giving unsolicited advice may cause unnecessary pressure. Listen carefully before offering to fix things.
  • Choose your words carefully. Because it’s impossible to truly know what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer unless you have been diagnosed yourself, avoid phrases, such as “I know what you’re going through …” and “I know how you must feel …”
  • Once confirmed, don’t deny the reality of the cancer diagnosis.
  • Don’t rush to control the situation. When you hear of a cancer diagnosis in your family, among your friends, or at your workplace, your first instinct may be to take charge of the situation. Instead, be open to the suggestions of others and the advice of the health care team.
  • Don’t minimize your own feelings.
  • Avoid excessive worry.

Please click here for a comprehensive, printable guide for recently diagnosed patients and families.

More Information

  • Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer
  • Talking About Cancer
  • Caregiving
  • Support and Resource Links

*Information courtesy of