Supporting someone with cancer
How can you help?
This a guide to what a person with cancer may be going through. It offers ideas about what you might say and do. Not everyone will respond to a cancer diagnosis in the same way, so there is no one right way to provide support.
Learn more about:
- What to say or do
- Being understanding
- Treating each other well
- Talking about it
- Some helpful ideas
- Practical ways to help
- What is less helpful
- What not to say
- What you could say
What to say or do
When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, you might want to talk to them about it but not know how. You may be worried about saying the wrong thing or intruding. Sometimes the person with cancer will raise the topic and you may find it difficult to come up with the right words to say.
It’s normal to feel lost for words, no matter how close you are to the person who has cancer. There isn’t one perfect script – what you say will probably depend on your relationship, your past experiences and your personality.
Everyone’s experience of cancer is unique. Even if you’ve had cancer yourself, what another person goes through will be different. Try not to assume how they might be feeling but make time to listen to their concerns. Your support can be very important during this time.
A person with cancer may experience:
Physical side effectsDuring treatment, they may be coping with side effects such as nausea, vomiting, skin changes, infections and hair loss. Some side effects such as fatigue and brain fog can be significant and continue even after treatment finishes.
A flood of emotionsWhen the future is uncertain, this can cause a range of feelings, including fear, worry, anger, sadness, vulnerability, and a lack of confidence or sense of self worth.
A cancer diagnosis may make a person reflect on their life and mortality from a new perspective. This may lead to new goals and priorities.
Practical concernsCancer can bring other changes to a person’s life. They may have to re-evaluate their financial plans or employment situation. A person’s sense of independence may change, depending on whether they are able to keep up with their usual daily activities.
IsolationEven if the person with cancer is surrounded by family and friends, they may sometimes still feel lonely and misunderstood. On the other hand, some people may appreciate having some time to themselves.
Treat each other well
Like everyone, a person with cancer will probably have good and bad days. It’s important to try to understand the extra pressures and changes a cancer diagnosis can bring, and how it might affect how a person feels and behaves. However, illness is not an excuse for mistreating other people. Respect and safety are essential in caring relationships.
If you’re concerned about the behaviour of the person with cancer, try to talk to them or consider seeing a counsellor to talk about your feelings.
Talk about it
It can be difficult to watch someone you care about go through a serious illness. You can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk about how you’re feeling or to ask any questions. Speaking to a counsellor may also be helpful. You can also visit our website, join our Online Community to connect with others or listen to our podcasts.
Podcast: How to Help Someone with Cancer
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment