How Can I Support? What Cancer Fighters Find Truly Helpful

I spoke to a friend the other day who was looking for real, tangible ways to help a friend who had recently been diagnosed with cancer. He wanted to help but wasn’t sure where to start- what was too much, and what was actually useful. It can be difficult to find the words, and sometimes the fear of saying the wrong thing shuts us down. Believe me, I UNDERSTAND! Even as the wife of a cancer fighter, searching for helpful things to do or say is not always easy. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact. I shared with my friend the acts of support we most appreciated and found most meaningful, and then I decided to ask a larger group of cancer fighters what they would add to the list. Every person copes in their own way and likes/dislikes different things, but here are some ideas that might open the door for you on your mission to support.

  1. Let them know they don’t need to respond. I had no idea how overwhelming the PR aspect of cancer fighting would be. Your support system is pouring encouragement, friends and family are seeking updates, and doctors are messaging constantly. You want to keep up with everyone, but it can be exhausting to respond to every message in a timely manner. We found it to be a huge relief when someone would send something like, “Hey. I love you and am proud of you. No need to respond, just know I’m here for you anytime.” Having a message like this pop up is spirit lifting, and doesn’t add stress. I feel supported in the moment, and can respond when I have the time and energy to do so.

  2. Say, “That Sucks”. Even with the best intentions, sometimes it’s best to save your advice. We found that hearing “That sucks.” was one of our favorite responses. Fighters don’t want pity. They want to know that you understand and are there for them. Keep it simple, and be kind.

  3. Don’t ask, just do. This may seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes asking what you can do to help adds stress. When someone messages me and asks what they can do, I find myself with another task. What could I have this person do? What do I need? What is too much to ask? Sometimes it’s helpful, but sometimes it’s nice to not have to give a specific recommendation. Of course be sensible with your choice- don’t throw a surprise party or sign them up for ice skating lessons or something that could end up being a burden. Think of small, sweet gestures that can be done on your own, and just do them! Ideas: Send a Seamless (food delivery) gift card, offer to come do the dishes, bring over a meal (but make it clear you’re just dropping off so they don’t feel the need to host) send a package with toilet paper, paper towels (or other things that might be on the back burner for a person in the throes of treatment) give them two or three options for nights you are free to babysit if they have kids, mention you’re at the grocery store and ask if there’s anything you can pick up for them. Even the simplest things are appreciated!

  4. Send a care package. Our recommendations: natural lip balm, ginger candies or tea, water bottle, blanket, funny socks, moisturizer, warm hat or beanie, entertainment (movies, crosswords, etc.), noise cancelling headphones (treatments/hospitals can be loud), eye mask, neck pillow, loungewear (we LOVE Feejays), video streaming service subscription, journal, a planner (shameless plug: The Better Book), a book you love (not cancer-related), massage gift certificate, or a robe. There are a lot of great products and resources out there that can really help a fighter unwind and feel comforted.

  5. Just listen. This came up many times in the responses I received from cancer fighters. Being able to talk about their fears and struggles without feeling like a burden is so important. Heavy topics can be uncomfortable to discuss, but making yourself available for a conversation like this can mean the world. Fighters are dealing with real, scary situations that aren’t easy to talk about. They want to feel normal and convince everyone around them that they are fine, but also occasionally need to say these scary thoughts out loud. Be the person that can handle hearing what they need to share.

  6. Send a card. Of course, I love this one. Sending and receiving cards is one of my favorite ways to show support. I was surprised by how many people told me it’s one of theirs as well! Coming home from a long day of treatment or appointments to a cheery card is the best. Send something meaningful, funny, thoughtful, irreverent, sweet- it all works! We are convinced laughter is the best medicine, and love receiving a card that makes us laugh. Make the day brighter for a fighter by sending a smile. Second shameless plug: shop our support cards HERE!

  7. Offer to bring meals/entertainment to infusions. Some treatments can last for hours. Offer to bring a meal! Let them know you don’t have to stay, but would love to drop by if they need it. If they’re up for it, hang out! Get their mind off of it, entertain, talk, listen, just be there for their needs.

  8. Send Money. This can be a difficult one for a fighter to ask for. When someone is fighting for their life, it seems almost cruel that their bills/rent/insurance expenses keep coming in. No one likes asking for money. No one likes to share that they’re struggling financially. Fighting cancer is all consuming. Many are not able to work during treatments. Even if you’re able to continue working, medical bills and other expenses pile up. As a supporter, sending money can feel forward. I promise it’s appreciated. Lifting the financial burden can be a huge relief. Feel uncomfortable sending a check? Send a gift card. We found Uber/car services, restaurants/food delivery, and just plan Visa gift cards to be most helpful. They may not ask, but they will appreciate it so much.

Have something to add to the list? Comment below!