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Supporting a Loved One Following a Life-changing Diagnosis

Our first concern at HopeCircle is always our patients, but a close second is the family, caregivers and support group. When there is a life changing diagnosis it affects not only the person who is diagnosed, but all those around them.  It has a ripple effect.  The patient is trying to be strong for those around them and the loved ones are trying to be strong and to understand how to support the patient.  It can be stressful and exhausting for everyone.

In our first blog we offered some suggestions for patients. Here are suggestions for supporting a loved one who has received a serious diagnosis.

Supporting a Friend or Loved One

When a friend or loved one is experiencing cancer, it is often difficult to know how to help, what to do or say. Because each person is different and has different needs, it is important to be sensitive, listen well and be flexible. Here are a few ideas for what to do and what not to do.

Do: Stay in touch regularly – Send cards, notes, texts and emails.

Listen – Truly hear what your friend is telling you. Undivided attention is a priceless gift.

 Offer to help with specifics – (I will bring dinner this Wed. or Thurs. Which day do you prefer?  What is your favorite dish? I am going to the grocery story, what can I get for you?)

 Offer to babysit or take the children on an outing – I want to take/keep your children for three hours this week. What day would work best for you?

 Give gift cards to restaurants, Wal-Mart, etc. – Sometimes food allergies, reactions to medicines or cravings make these a better idea than taking meals.

 Plan fun activities – Lunch out, a manicure or a movie can be a real treat.

 Schedule visits – These can be welcome distractions, but, understand if they need to be canceled because of the patient’s needs.

 Laugh with them – Laughter is one of the best medicines.

 Take lunch on treatment days – To the clinic, if appropriate, or to the house. Check on food allergies & tastes.

 Provide a goody bag for treatment days – Snacks, water, crossword puzzles, inspirational books, etc

 Purchase funny and/or inspirational movies – Laughter gets your mind off your situation and provides healing for your mind and body.

 ALWAYS take food in disposable pans – Returning containers can be a real hassle and another stressor.

 BE THERE. Help your friend focus on good feelings and moments of happiness. Humor alwaysbrightens the day. Touch or hug, as appropriate. Tell them you care. (Even if they don’t feel like responding, your prayers, thoughts and presence are meaningful.) Make sure everything you do is done to relieve stress, fulfill a need and demonstrate your love for your friend.

   This is not about you…


Tell horror stories & offer “alternative” diagnosis or medical advice. Ignore or withdraw – Your presence is more important than any words.  Wait for your friend to come to you for help – They may be overwhelmed & not know what they need.  Send “Get Well Soon” messages – Cancer is a long journey.  Complain about how busy & hectic your life is – You have no idea what they are experiencing.

 Instead of saying: “How are you feeling?” Say: “How’s it going?” If she doesn’t feel like talking about her health, a more open-ended question allows her to introduce another topic.

 Instead of saying: “My neighbor died of that exact same thing. It was awful.” Say: “I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer. Know that I’ll be thinking of you.” Horror stories rob patients of hope –and they are hard to put out of your mind.

 Instead of saying: “Think positively.” Say: “I imagine you’re feeling many emotions right now.  Please know I’m here to listen if or when you’d like to talk about it.” While being positive ishelpful, never minimize what the patient or caregiver is experiencing.

 Instead of saying: “Let me know what I can do to help.” Say: “I’d love to drop off dinner one day next week.” The more specific your offer, the more helpful it is. Just be sure to follow through.

“Love in all its forms is Hope”   Amy Bloom