Six ways to help a friend after a cancer diagnosis

A look at some useful ways to support a friend who has cancer.

Cancer Council Australia estimates that 128,000 people will be newly diagnosed with cancer this year. When someone close to you tells you they have cancer, you may feel helpless and not know what to say or do. You may not be able to cure cancer, but there are things you can do to offer love, support and practical help to your friend or family member.

Contact

After a cancer diagnosis, it's normal for friends and family to get in touch with kind words. But Cancer Council Western Australia's information and support services director Sandy McKiernan says it's common for people to “drop off the radar” after a while because they don't expect treatment to last so long.

“That sometimes isolates people,” she says. “Stay in touch. Find ways that aren't cancer related like having a cup of coffee.” Remember them during their ongoing treatment and afterwards as well. A call, text, message on Facebook, a card, flowers or small gift will let them know you haven't forgotten them.

Listen

Don't ask too many questions. Patients are inundated with questions from their care team and don't always want to have to answer questions from friends and family members as well. Let them unload their concerns and fears on you. Just listen and be a shoulder for them.

Patient and visitor holding hands

Educate yourself

Learn about their cancer. The more you know, the less questions you have to ask them about them about their condition. Information is useful and powerful. If your friend wants to talk about their cancer, at least you will have some idea of what's it is, what's helpful and what's not.

Rally

The financial burden of cancer can add more pressure to the patient and their family. Crowdfunding is a popular way to offer financial assistance. Setting up an internet-based fundraiser is easy. Check out www.mycause.com.au or www.pozible.com.

An old-fashioned bake sale is just as thoughtful and appreciated. While Rebecca McKeating was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, her friend Jane made biscuits and had mutual friends sell them at work. Together they raised $500 so Rebecca and her husband could do something special together.

“There have been big gestures and little gestures, and each one of them has made me feel very loved and supported,” she says. “I don't think my friends realise just how important some of those little gestures have been to me.”

"There have been big gestures and little gestures, and each one of them has made me feel very loved and supported."

Hold their hand

Support groups offer a safe place to meet other people affected by cancer. Cancer Council NSW research has found that people who attend these groups are less likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Doctor appointments and treatment sessions may be plentiful depending on the type and stage of your friend's cancer. If you can and they’re comfortable with it, go along with them to take notes, offer comfort, company and a familiar face. Rebecca's friend even made healthy snacks to take along to chemo sessions.

Domestic duties

“Food is easy,” says McKiernan. “Everyone needs to eat, especially if there's children involved and family to look after – one less thing to stress about. Often tastes change during treatment, so spicy foods may upset their tummy. Simple foods in small portions can be useful."

Along with shopping and cooking, housework will always need doing. Patients are sometimes physically unable to do chores after surgery or during chemotherapy, so pitching in to do the cleaning is a much-appreciated and practical gesture of kindness. An app like Thrivor can help you and your friend figure out what needs to be done, and what you can help with.

Going through cancer is physically and emotionally draining. Acts of kindness and support, whether big or small, can mean the world to someone during and after treatment.

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