For Our Loved Ones: How to Support Someone With Cancer

Have you ever needed to know how to support someone with cancer? Have you delivered a meal to a mother with breast cancer juggling care for her children or offered to drive a friend to a chemotherapy session? Chances are, if you have helped a person with cancer you have experienced the profound emotions that come with helping, from great joy and relief that, indeed, there is something that you can actually do to make a difference — to sadness for what your loved one is experiencing.

Here at Lotsa Helping Hands, hundreds of thousands of volunteers have come together to support families coping with a cancer diagnosis. From a young mother dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis to a spouse battling prostate cancer or a young child facing leukemia, it’s a topic close to our hearts. Barry Katz, our Co-Founder experienced a cancer diagnosis first hand when his wife Carole was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When she did lose her battle, Barry reflected on the challenges that he himself faced as a caregiver managing the very welcome but often overwhelming offers of help. Carole remains an inspiration to each of us in our daily work. I’ve personally witnessed and participated in several communities in my hometown of Kensington, Maryland, delivering meals and offering help to friends coping with the unthinkable, a cancer diagnosis.

So, when we were invited to speak on Sirius XM’s Doctor Radio a few weeks back to discuss the topic of how to support someone with cancer, we were honored. I spoke with Dr. Abe Chachoua & Dr. Silvia Formenti during their Oncology show. If you have not had a chance to listen to their program, I’d recommend you do. They are a wonderful mix of clever personality with a real sensitivity and unassuming expertise about the topic they are discussing.

4 Tips for Offering Help to a Cancer Caregiver

Dr. Chachoua asked me a question that we never take lightly – to paraphrase – what are some pointers you can give to those who are helping a caregiver caring for a loved one with cancer? It is such an important question to ask because so often, in our earnest to help a loved one caring for someone with cancer or a person who has been diagnosed, our first question is, ‘what can I do to help?’ It is a heartfelt question but can also leave the family overwhelmed. Chances are they receive many well-meaning offers, and find it difficult to answer the question and organize the many offers they receive. Here are some specific tips that we shared.

  1. Be specific. Go beyond asking ‘what can I do to help?’ and offer something specific. For example, “how about I bring you a meal on Tuesday evening – I’ll drop it on your doorstep between 5 and 6 pm, does that work for you?” or, “let me take Sean to soccer practice this Saturday so you can get some rest.” The trick of how to support someone with cancer and their caregiver is to be specific.
  2. Be the messenger. When facing a cancer diagnosis and the treatment regimen, families are often coping with the need to keep loved ones informed about what’s happening. Offer to keep the family’s friends and loved ones updated on how everyone is doing, reducing the caregivers’ responsibility for responding to the many emails, texts and voicemails they receive from those who are concerned.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it might feel like to you if your world was turned upside down with a cancer diagnosis. If you were the caregiver juggling household responsibilities, work, and your loved ones cancer diagnosis, what would you need? Think about what might feel good to you and offer it. Consider providing the caregiver with a guilt free break from their responsibilities or support with researching the latest information about their loved one’s diagnosis.
  4. Build a community of helping hands. Finally, if you find yourself witness to a caregiver and family coping with a cancer diagnosis, consider creating a community of helping hands to ease the burden. You can create a Community of support at Lotsa Helping Hands. For those experiencing cancer, we now have a resource called My Cancer Circle. My Cancer Circle includes all of the features of Lotsa and also includes resources and content from CancerCare.

For more information about helping families coping with cancer, check out our resources. Tell us how you are helping a family with cancer. What has worked for you.