How to Support A Loved One With Cancer

“I am here to support you”, is a common phrase often used by friends, family, and acquaintances to convey solidarity, reassurance, and camaraderie in the early stages of a patient’s cancer diagnosis. However, as a support person, it can be a difficult task to discern how to truly best support a loved one with cancer. Navigating conversations about support and your role in your loved one’s cancer journey can feel challenging, however, we have a few tips that may assist you in approaching these conversations with your loved one.
1. Ask Directly

Support figures often make the mistake of assuming that they know the kind of support that their loved one needs or default to a means of support that feels most comfortable and familiar to them. Asking your loved one directly serves two purposes. (1) It assures that you are providing immediate, conscientious support and (2) it empowers your loved one to advocate for their own needs and assert a level of control over how, when, and from whom they receive support.
Amidst the onslaught of doctors visits, treatment changes, and physiological side effects, cancer treatment can be a debilitating experience with little regard for a patient’s personal agency and bodily autonomy. As a result, allowing your loved one to set expectations, advocate for their needs, and allocate responsibilities amongst their support team can be a thoroughly rewarding and empowering experience for them.
2. Be Curious

You may be thinking to yourself- “Well, I’ve never had to have a conversation about needs and support before. How do I broach these conversations with my loved one?” Below are some suggested questions that could help you clarify the type, amount, and intensity of care that your loved one may need or would prefer.
  • Are there any areas of your life right now where you feel you could use more support?
  • How can I contribute to making your daily life easier/happier/better?
  • What role would you prefer I assume so that I can best assist you during your treatment period (examples include- confidant, advocate, friend, caregiver, etc.)?
  • What is something that you are currently struggling to manage that I may be able to assist you with?
  • What are your immediate needs right now?
Cancer patients may require different levels and forms of support depending on their limitations, stage of treatment, and personal preferences. Don’t be afraid to check in every once and a while to see if your loved one’s needs have changed and be willing to accommodate accordingly. 
3. Know the Common Types of Support

It helps to be familiar with different types of support should your loved one struggle to identify tasks they need assistance with, or be unable to identify their needs or limitations in the moment. Here are a few ways to help:
Practical Support
  • Physical Presence. Accompany them to medical appointments, doctor consults, treatment sessions, or any other engagement where your presence may be helpful or comforting.
  • Assistance With Tasks. Help with daily tasks, household chores, meal preparation, scheduling appointments, or transportation needs.
  • Coordinate A Support System. Work with other members of the patient’s support network to coordinate and delegate caretaking responsibilities.
  • Finding Additional Resources. Research some local peer support groups, programs, or counseling services that may provide additional support.
  • Promote Engagement. Promote opportunities for the patient to participate in activities that they enjoy (spending time outdoors, participating in hobbies, watching movies, doing crafts, etc.).
  • Offer Environmental Comforts. Assist in making their space more comfortable (warm blankets, soft clothing, or favorite pillows) or prepare comforting meals.
  • Community Involvement. Participate in cancer fundraising events or raise awareness surrounding cancer research and early prevention.
Emotional Support
  • Encouragement. Offer words of positivity and encouragement while being mindful to avoid minimizing how a patient is authentically feeling.
  • Listen. Lend an ear and allow them to express their thoughts, feelings and even fears without judgment.
  • Be Present. Many underestimate the power of their physical presence in supporting another person. Being available and providing companionship is one of the simplest and most effective means of supporting another.
  • Advocacy. Help advocate for the patient’s beliefs and opinions surrounding their treatment and lifestyle choices with their family members, friends, and medical team.
4. Respect Your Loved One’s Boundaries

Remember, that every patient will cope with and respond to their cancer diagnosis differently and may not alway open to receiving support. Be prepared to be understanding and respectful should your loved one turn-down your attempts at support. Your loved ones are entitled to privacy. It is important to trust that they are capable of communicating honestly about their needs as they evolve and establish a trusting, open relationship with them.
5. Take Care of Yourself

When attempting to care for someone else with cancer it is important to be conscious of your own limitations and boundaries. The fact of the matter is that we are only capable of attending to the needs of others when our own needs are being satisfied. Compassion fatigue is common among caregivers, and it is important to not neglect your own wellness in an attempt to uphold anothers. Be comfortable with acknowledging when you are taking on too many responsibilities and contemplate how you may be able to allocate roles and tasks to other members of the support team. A licensed counselor can be a wonderful resource to assist caretakers and family members in supporting their loved ones in their cancer journey. 
I specialize in working with cancer patients and their families at our Lifeologie Counseling Dallas/ Uptown location. If you live in the Dallas area and you or your loved one could benefit from cancer-related counseling and support, please call our office at (214) 357-4001 or request an appointment with me. Or, visit https:// meet our team and  find out which Lifeologie Counselor is right for you.

About Lifeologie

Lifeologie Counseling was founded in 2000 with one goal in mind — to bring a fresh, innovative approach to the everyday problems of life. Creative solutions to stuck problems®. With our unique multi-specialty, collaborative approach, Lifeologie Counseling helps individuals and families heal their wounds and break out of old, unhealthy patterns.