19 ways to help someone during cancer treatment

When someone you know receives a cancer diagnosis, you want to help. But how?

Instead of asking what you can do to help, it’s usually better to find a concrete way to support your friend or loved one, and do it. Some people may not feel comfortable asking for help, or the list of things they need help with may seem too long and overwhelming.

But what can you do that will actually be helpful? We asked our Facebook community to share helpful things friends and family members have done to support them. Here are their suggestions.

  1. Take care of the grocery shopping, or order groceries online and have them delivered.
  2. Help keep their household running. Cook, clean, mow the lawn, wash the laundry and/or dishes, make sure the bills get paid, get the kids dressed for school, walk the dog and do all of the things that the person in cancer treatment would normally do to keep life going for the rest of the family.
  3. Bring a cup of tea or coffee and stop by for a visit. Just keep in mind that cancer patients often struggle with fatigue, so don’t stay too long – unless they ask you to stay longer.
  4. Give the primary caregiver a break. Go to doctor’s appointments in the caregiver’s place, help out with the kids or pets, organize medications, or send the patient’s spouse, parent or child off for massage or a night or weekend to unwind. This can ease the caregiver’s stress, and give him or her the energy to keep going.
  5. Drive the patient to appointments. And when treatment is over, drive them to checkups and scans. They may not show it, but cancer patients often have a lot of anxiety about these appointments even years after treatment. A friendly face and someone to talk to can make a big difference.
  6. Take notes during appointments or when the doctor or nurse stops by in the hospital. Patients’ memories can be foggy during and after treatment, and the amount of information they receive can be overwhelming. Taking notes can ensure they have the information they need later.
  7. Prepare meals or deliver takeout. Even better: organize a bunch of friends and family to bring meals for several days or weeks while the patient recovers.
  8. Take care of their children. Take them to school or sports practice, help with homework, or have them over for a slumber party or playdate. This can help take their minds off of cancer, and ease their parents’ stress.
  9. Knit a cap or scarf.
  10. Pray. This gives many patients the courage to face another day.
  11. Just sit with them and listen. Don’t offer advice or recommendations unless asked. Instead, listen to the patient’s concerns, acknowledge that cancer sucks and offer a shoulder to cry on. And if the patient doesn’t feel like talking, sit there with them quietly. There is a lot of power in simply being present.
  12. Play music. Whether you play an instrument, make a playlist or turn on some tunes, music can help everyone relax and take their minds off cancer.
  13. Stay connected. Send texts, call, email, cards, etc. Let them know you’re thinking of them.
  14. Give them a sack of gifts or cards, with instructions to open one each morning. This is a great way to help someone to get out of bed and brighten their day.
  15. Send fun or silly treats in the mail.
  16. Visit them in the hospital. Days can seem very long when you’re hospitalized, and a short visit from a friend or family member can make a big difference.
  17. Remember that most cancer patients don’t want to be treated differently just because they have cancer. Talk to your friend or loved one like you did before. Tell jokes, talk about what’s going on in the neighborhood or at your kids’ school, favorite TV shows, etc. This can briefly help take patients’ minds off of cancer.
  18. Make them laugh. Tell jokes. Share funny videos. Laughter really is good medicine.
  19. Find ways to motivate them to do what they need to do to get better, whether that’s doing their exercises for rehab, taking medications or eating more.

However you decide to help, remember: any love and support you provide can make a big difference, whether it cheers the patient up, or frees up their time and energy so that they can focus on job No. 1: healing and getting back to living life.  

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.