What are Some Ideas for Helping a Person Who is Fighting Cancer?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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When a person first receives a diagnosis of cancer, he or she must confront a number of emotional, financial, and physical issues, seemingly all at once. Friends, relatives, and co-workers of someone fighting cancer often feel compelled to offer meaningful assistance, but fear crossing an unspoken line between support and personal intrusion. People fighting cancer react in a myriad of ways, from depression and withdrawal to a renewed sense of purpose or determination. Offering help to a cancer patient involves gauging his or her specific needs and knowing when to provide support and when to respect his or her privacy.

One way to help a person fighting cancer is to provide creature comforts. Chemotherapy and radiation sessions often leave a cancer patient physically and emotionally drained. Housekeeping chores and other home maintenance issues may be difficult to perform. A friend or relative could volunteer to drive the cancer victim to a treatment session while others spend time cleaning the home and laundering clothes. People fighting cancer in an advanced stage may spend much of their downtime in bed, so it is important to keep bed linens and pillows as sanitary as possible.


One way for co-workers to help a person fighting cancer is to take up the patient's workload whenever possible. Some cancer patients can still maintain a full workload, but many must either reduce their work hours significantly or agree to a medical leave of absence. This may not sound like a sacrifice at first, but many people fighting cancer or other serious conditions seek the sense of normality and responsibility their jobs provide. Co-workers should keep the cancer patient 'in the loop' as much as possible, with regular updates on work issues or informal consultations on projects. Feeling a sense of connection to the outside world can help a person fighting cancer to cope with isolation.

It's not unusual for friends and relatives to feel awkward around a person actively fighting cancer. The cancer patient may choose not to talk about the disease at all, or he or she may become very vocal about new cancer treatments or fundraising efforts. Every cancer patient handles the prognosis differently. Friends and relatives can help a person fighting cancer by listening to his or her concerns and plans objectively, even if they may sound irrational or unrealistic at first. People fighting cancer benefit greatly from the positive energy generated by truly supportive friends and family.

Many people actively fighting cancer need financial and legal assistance. A spouse, trusted friend, or professional accountant might have to take over the patient's routine finances temporarily. This strongly depends on the wishes and capabilities of the patient, however, so no one should ever assume the right to control a person's finances unilaterally. Power of attorney rights should be established to prevent exploitation. A person fighting cancer may not be in a position to decide on long-term health care options, tax issues, or the formation of a will, for example. A responsible friend or family member could provide valuable legal and financial assistance, or at least point the person fighting cancer in the right direction.

Perhaps the most important way that family and friends can help a person fighting cancer is by their presence. One night of the week could become family movie night, with the patient selecting the titles. Weekends could be devoted to overnight getaways to the beach or other relaxing destinations. Old friends could bring favorite meals and spend a few hours chatting. Co-workers could plan conference calls to leave words of encouragement. Extended family members could make a point of visiting on holidays or planning local reunions. Any life-affirming activity can provide people fighting cancer some solace during a very difficult time in their lives.


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Post 3

@Iluviaporos - It's such an awful, difficult thing, because I know people who might need help but would never ask for it, even if they were given the green light to do so by their friends. They wouldn't want to impose, even if they were dying.

So it depends on the person and their situation. If they are the type of person who might not ask for help on their own, a gentle reminder, or the occasional spontaneous action would probably not go astray, as long as you were very sensitive to whether or not they appreciate it.

Post 2

@MrsPramm - The problem is, though, that once a person is fighting cancer, everything becomes about the cancer and some people can't stand that aspect. They don't want to talk about treatments and emotions and techniques for coping. They want to talk about what they've always talked about with their friends.

This isn't true of everyone, and it's always best to try and adjust to whatever the person in need requires, but what they require might surprise you. Honesty is best. Basically tell them to be open and honest with you and that you are at their service whatever they want to do or talk about or whatever they require. And then leave it at that.

Post 1

I remember when a friend of mine heard that his close friend (who I didn't know) had been diagnosed with cancer and would need intensive care for several years. I'm afraid I overreacted and tried to be a good friend by offering to talk about it and being extremely sympathetic, which my friend did not appreciate, as he felt that he wasn't the one who needed comfort.

But I didn't know his friend and all I could do was offer comfort to him if he needed it. I did go overboard I guess, but I think I was reacting like that because that's what I'd want people to do if I was in his position. You have to be there for your friend, so it is nice when your other friends are supportive of you.

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