Helping a Friend with Cancer

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Unfortunately over the past few years I have known friends who have faced and FOUGHT a cancer diagnosis.

As a friend of someone going through cancer, it’s hard to know what to do and how to help. I didn’t know the “right” thing to do, or what would be most helpful or thoughtful. I feared doing or saying the wrong thing. I felt helpless. This post is to help empower anyone looking for ideas on how to help a friend with cancer.

If you have any tips or ideas to add to this post, PLEASE comment below. The beauty in a post like this is the invaluable resources and ideas that other people also contribute. Thank you in advance.

When I got the idea to write this post, I wanted the information to come firsthand from someone who fought cancer and the ways they were helped, supported and loved during their diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

I have two inspirational, kick cancer’s ass friends who were kind enough to offer their insight and ideas.

The first is Allison, a mom I met at a Parent/Child class at our preschool. Our girls met and quickly became fast friends, so did we. Her comments are below in black. 

The other is Wendy Nielsen who is a breast cancer survivor and has written extensively about cancer on her blog including survivor tips and information, her personal story, and a beautiful October Series where she shared other women’s stories affected by breast cancer. You can read a post she wrote on How to Help a Friend With Cancer where she covered the same topic extensively, including the best things to say to someone with cancer. Her comments are in blue below.

If you find yourself in the situation with a loved one facing cancer, I hope some of their ideas help you find ways to support and love them through the process. Their words and insight are indented and italicized below.

10 Ways to Help a Friend with Cancer


1. Family-Friendly Meals

Bringing dinners over is a way that many people feel like they can most help. Using a website like or can also help a group of friends sign-up to bring meals over by date so you have a calendar arranged.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind, as shared with me by my friends:

“Meals are great but often when you are going through treatment you don’t feel like eating much or you have specific diet requirements.

For me it was most helpful to know that my family was being fed.  Bringing over meals that I knew the kids and my husband would eat took pressure off of me.  A lot of people brought meals that were healthy and had me in mind which was sweet but a lot got tossed because I couldn’t eat and family wouldn’t eat.”

“Totally agree with this. I was worried more about my family being fed than myself. Meal trains are great but to continually ask friends to deliver meals week after week feels like a huge inconvenience (not to mention the guilt we often feel).

In my experience, I asked a close friend (who loves to cook) if she would prepare 3-4 hearty meals (keeping in mind what my family would/wouldn’t eat).

She would deliver these the day I had chemo so that there would be dinner that evening plus a couple more nights for the week after treatment. There was always enough for leftovers plus she’d send cookies and treats. I didn’t feel as guilty doing it this way and wasn’t worried about waiting for someone to drop off our dinner each night.”

2. Dinner Invitations Out of the House

“Meals were coming fast and furious, but I loved it when the person on the meal calendar invited us to come over to their house to have the meal.  When I was up for it, it was such a treat to get out of the house.  I loved the change of scenery.”

3. Chemo Care Baskets

“Girls would pack me a chemo picnic basket for my treatment days filled with the things I could have.

Ideas on things to include:

* coconut water
* pretzels
* hard candy  
* snacks for the person that was coming with me
* fuzzy socks
* magazines (gossip magazines are good to pass time)
* iTunes gift card to buy a new movie while we sat there for 8 hours
* I needed something to keep my hands busy and to calm nerves –worry stones  or worry beads might be a unique addition to a care basket
* Nothing that requires too much brain power. I personally would avoid crossword puzzles, etc.
* luxury pillow case”

4. House Cleaning

“My care crew paid for a cleaning lady to come once a week.  It was great because she cleaned, washed and changed all the linens and pushed the laundry through.  Huge help! YES!! Even the smallest tasks are appreciated, such as pulling the trash bins to the curb, walking the dog.”

5. Caring for the Kids

“Playdates for the kids were my favorite thing. YES!! Knowing the kids were taken care of took so much stress off me.  Knowing they were having fun allowed me to just worry about me.  When you know your kids are being cared for it doesn’t feel like a favor that needs to be returned; is just so incredibly helpful to one’s recovery.

Ideas to help with the kids: 

* Play dates arranged for the kids after school.
* Rides to and from school and activities.
* Care packages for the kids.
We got journals, Legos, restaurant gift cards to frozen yogurt or Ruby’s. Quiet activities I could do with them like Legos or coloring where most helpful.”

6. Don’t Forget the Husbands

“Having a few guys ask my husband to go surfing, play golf or grab a beer was helpful.  They need a break from cancer too.  Not to necessarily talk about cancer but, to allow them to escape the cancer world for a bit have some fun and have a friend there in case they do want to share what they are going through. “

“Agree! Husbands become caretaker superstars plus bear the weight that their partner has cancer — it’s a very stressful time. Definitely encourage their buddies to go do something to allow them to feel normal.”

7. Appointment Assistance / Check In

“We had a calendar of girls available each day to take me to my appointments, pick up prescriptions, etc.  She would call in the morning and ask if I needed any help.  I often did not but, it was nice to know that I had a buddy if needed. It’s nice to have friends check in with calls with the caveat of  “Please do not feel like you need to call me back but, thinking about you” etc.”

“Would love to add that friends should keep expectations low in terms of returned phone calls, text, emails. Our brains are just not functioning at full speed plus we’re exhausted. Plus, we often want to avoid the “cancer” conversations.”

8. Cards

“I loved knowing people were thinking of me. Loved this! I had a friend send me a card that I would receive the day before treatment. Hallmark used to make cancer specific cards but that isn’t even necessary. A blank card with a note to say hi, thinking of you, etc. is ONE OF THE BEST THINGS SOMEONE CAN DO!

9. Symbol

“My friends had a small beaded bracelet made and sent them out to my support team. On my chemo days, and often everyday the girls would wear them.  It made me feel so good to see how many people I had on my team. 

Be there to listen.  There is a lot of time being brave and strong but, sometimes you just need a friend to fall apart with.  To get the snotty cry face and just release it all.”

Couple notes from Jen: On the topic of symbols, I recently shared a company called MantraBands that make bracelets with mantras on them – check them out here. Love them. One of my friends just shared with me that she bought a cashmere cardigan for her cousin when she started chemo, with a note that said, she hoped she would wear it and feel wrapped in a hug from her.  I thought this was a special idea. I have also seen groups of friends get t-shirts made as a symbol of support.

10. Girls Night In

“My friends would plan a girls night in and we would all wear pjs and watch the Golden Globes or a movie and just do normal things together.”

“This is a great idea! I would often be invited out to do things but avoided going because I was wearing a scarf on my head or I didn’t have eyelashes. I didn’t want to sit in a crowded restaurant/bar and feel like an outcast. Girls night in is a fabulous idea!”

Please comment below with your ideas! 

Are you a cancer survivor or currently fighting cancer and experienced ways friends and family have supported you? Have you walked through a cancer diagnosis next to a friend or family member and discovered things that were especially helpful to help them? Please comment below. I think the more ideas the better. Thank you…

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