Someone I love was diagnosed with cancer. What can I do to help?

Hearing that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer is never easy. It’s normal to feel shocked, sad, scared, and angry after learning about a loved one’s cancer diagnosis. But, it’s important to remember that no matter how painful this experience is for you, it’s far worse for your loved one who has actually been diagnosed. Here’s what you can do to help:   

Be Willing to Listen

Many people are not sure what to say to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. They may worry that talking about the diagnosis will upset, offend, or anger their loved one. But, if your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, chances are that they need someone to listen to them, not someone who will carry the conversation. Make sure your loved one knows that you are ready and willing to talk whenever they need someone to listen. Then, respect their privacy and let them come to you when they are ready to open up. 

Don’t Exclude Them

People who have been diagnosed with cancer do not want their loved ones to start treating them differently. Be sure to include your loved one when engaging in activities you usually do together. For example, if you typically go out for breakfast every Saturday morning with your loved one, there’s no need to cancel these plans simply because your loved one has cancer. Let your loved one tell you when they are no longer able to participate in certain activities--don’t make these decisions for them.

 Don’t Judge Their Decisions

At some point, a loved one may make a decision regarding their treatment that you disagree with. But, it’s best to keep these opinions to yourself unless you are explicitly asked to share them. Everyone has the right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare. Your loved one may not have shared all of the details of their condition with you, so it’s possible that you don’t understand their choice simply because you don’t know everything about their diagnosis. Don’t make them feel guilty about the decision they’ve made--offer your support instead.

Offer Help

Cancer treatment is physically and emotionally exhausting, so your loved one may seem completely drained at times. Some people who are in this situation are too proud or embarrassed to ask their loved ones for help. Instead, they struggle to take care of themselves, their families, and their households while also undergoing treatment. This is too much for one person to handle on their own, so offer your help to your loved one. Ask if you can arrange meal deliveries, take their children to school, clean up their house, or run errands for them. They may not take you up on your offer immediately, but give them some time and they will realize there’s nothing wrong with accepting help.  

Expect Mood Swings

A loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer will most likely experience mood swings. Some days will be filled with happiness and laughter while others will be filled with sadness and regret. It’s hard to be around someone who is angry or deeply depressed, but don’t turn your back on your loved one now. Even if their anger is directed towards you, try to remember that they are on an emotional rollercoaster as a result of their diagnosis. Their mood swings have nothing to do with you, so don’t take them personally.

You may feel helpless after finding out about your loved one’s cancer diagnosis, but as you can see, there are plenty of ways you can help. Keep in mind that everyone handles their cancer diagnosis in a unique way. Because of this, it’s best to take cues from your loved one when figuring out the best way to help them through this incredibly difficult time.