How can I help someone coping with cancer?

There are many ways that you can help people with cancer or the people who are caring for them. Having help with some practical or everyday parts of life can allow the person with cancer and their caregivers to concentrate on other things, such as treatment or getting rest.

One way you can help is offering to become a source of information. Be sensitive to the fact that everyone's need for information is different. Some people with cancer may want as much information as can be found, while others may not want to know details about their illness. You could find out more about the type of cancer the person has, or help by finding out about programs and services available in their community. Services may include many things such as wheelchair rentals, nursing care at home, wigs, prostheses or support programs that connect someone living with cancer with a trained volunteer who has had a similar cancer experience.

You can also:

  • Find new ways to do things. Cancer and cancer treatment can make people weak. For example, invite a barber or hairdresser to the house if the person can't get out for a haircut.
  • Offer specific help. Asking “When can I ...” rather than “What can I ...” may make it easier for the person or their family to accept your help. Ask when can you look after the children or do the laundry, when can you cut the grass or when can you get the car cleaned.
  • Prepare ready made meals for the family - things that are easy to freeze and reheat. Taking care of grocery shopping is another way to help. Check first to see if cancer treatment has affected what the person with cancer can eat.
  • Drive the person with cancer to and from their medical appointments.
  • Follow through on what you offer. Even better, do it more than once. Be someone they can count on and turn to for help.

Keep offering support

You may find that while offering help and support is easy at first, it gets harder as time goes by. Try to remember that your support is important. It may help the person find the courage they need to lead as full a life as the illness will allow.

Sometimes cancer and cancer treatment will mean that a person's daily life will have to change. The adjustment may mean that they have to do special exercises, get help around the house or be trained for a new job. Be aware that all of this can take time, and that it affects not just the person with cancer but the whole family as well. Along the way, you can offer help and support.

Additional resources

Prepared by the Canadian Cancer Society. This information appeared originally on the Canadian Health Network Web site.

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