How to Support Someone With Cancer

When hearing someone else has cancer the general response is wanting to help. Support has been shown to improve mood and decrease anxiety and depression in patients with cancer. A helping hand can be an immense relief for those who need to focus on their health for a while.

For support to be effective, it requires the person providing the support to be flexible, patient and have open communication and follow-through.


Open communication:

Open communication allows a person to express their concerns and wants freely. It is not telling them what they need. People often want to provide support based on their values and needs and not the person who needs help. For example, ask yourself, when would you want visitors if you were in hospital versus when do you visit someone in hospital. Although welcomed, people may visit their friends or relatives when it suits them, without openly discussing when it would suit the person in hospital.


  • Start the conversation of what do you need? And when? Use open-ended questions (closed-ended questions have a “yes” or “no” response)
  • Clarify what the person wants


  • Be offended if what you suggest is not taken on board
  • Place your concerns on the person



Support can fluctuate. Someone may need a lot of support one week, but very little the following week. By being flexible and following the person’s calendar, you’ll be able to make a bigger impact when the person requires it. No-one wants 10 oven-baked dishes one week and then none the following week. Flexibility requires a level of commitment and the ability not to be offended if what you’re offering is not taken that moment.


  • Find out what is important for the person
  • Identify when you are free and inform the person
  • Establish how the person wants to be contacted and when


  • Visit without telling the person first
  • Insist


Patience and following-through:

People’s circumstances can change quickly, especially with a cancer diagnosis. It's hard at times to predict when someone will need support and what it may entail. If you do say you want to help, it could be a few weeks to months for it to be taken up. Additionally it may be something that you did not think that you would need to do.


  • Be honest with yourself and the person you wish to support if you have the time and availability
  • Text or call when you say you are going to


  • Be surprised if you are asked to do something
  • Say you can do something if you cannot

A simple way to support someone with a cancer diagnosis is by reminding them that you're thinking of them and that they are important. If you are time-poor or live abroad, sending a small gift or card can improve someone’s mood and give them a sense of encouragement as well.

Live Better With has a large selection of gifts and bundles designed to improve day to day life of someone with a cancer diagnosis. They can be found here: Thoughtful Gifts Ideas for Someone With Cancer


Read next:

  • Let's Talk About Cancer [Infographic] - We asked over 500 people about comments they'd received from friends and loved ones about their cancer diagnosis. We know that talking about cancer isn't always easy, but the results we received absolutely shocked us.


  1. Nikki on

    Some really valuable points made in this article thanks. When my mum was diagnosed it was so hard to know what to do and say to help. We found our way through. If it's been and still is very tough for mum and all of us at times.

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