Supporting Your Loved One Through Their Cancer Journey

Mun-Yee Chik

Has your friend or loved one been diagnosed with cancer?

This can be a stressful time, not just for the person receiving the diagnosis, but for those around them too. It’s common for family and friends to feel scared, confused, and overwhelmed.

You may be wondering how you can best support them. 

You may feel unsure about what you could say or do to help.

You may want to provide encouragement and assistance but don’t know where to start.

Please know, even if you’re not the one receiving the diagnosis, your emotions are valid. Cancer can be difficult for everyone, it's okay for you to seek support too. 

It’s ok if you’re lost for words, if you don’t know how to be strong, if you don’t know what to do.

I know what you’re going through.

I’m here to help.

I’ve spent over 25 years in cancer care, but I started where you are. 

When my mother received her cancer diagnosis my whole world changed. That’s why I’m so committed to supporting women as a whole through their cancer journey. That means involving and empowering those they love as well.

Here I will talk you through some ways that you can be there for your loved one as you both navigate cancer care and cancer recovery together.

Prepare yourself

To provide the best support possible, you’ll need to prepare yourself for the journey too. 

Try to accept and process your own emotions around the diagnosis before you talk to your loved one. This is an important first step as it allows you to keep the focus of your interactions on them and their wellbeing. The last thing you want to do is burden them with your emotions as well.

You might want to do some research. It can help you to feel more in control if you have an understanding of the diagnosis, treatments, and recovery process.

Finally, prepare yourself for changes in your loved one. Many people experience hair loss, fatigue, and weight loss through their cancer treatment journey. Your loved one may not be as active as they were before or they may need a little more support to get through the day. 

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

The fact that you are here, putting in the effort to learn how best you can support your loved one already proves how much you care about them. You’re already doing a great job.

Practical help

Cancer treatment is often physically and emotionally exhausting. It changes many aspects of a person’s life. Your loved one may find throughout treatment that their independence is impacted. They might struggle to keep up with their normal daily activities like housework, personal hygiene, and cooking. Their ability to work might be impacted, causing financial strain. They may struggle to drive.

Supplying practical help can make a big difference in your loved one’s life. 

Start by asking them what they need. 

You could prepare meals, clean their house, do yard work, or run errands. They may need someone to drive them to appointments or take them shopping or their pets may need to be walked. 

Take your loved ones' lead when it comes to providing practical help. Let them decide what they’d like help with and what they’d like to do for themself.

Remember, some people cling to their independence through their cancer care. They may find it hard to accept help. If this is the case, don’t take it personally. 

Just offer to help out and let them know that you’ll be there whenever they need you.

Emotional Support

Cancer doesn’t just take a toll on a person’s physical health but also on their mental and emotional well-being. Your loved one may experience emotions including sadness, anger, anxiety, and depression. 

The Cancer Council Australia encourages family members to provide emotional support to those with cancer. It can help to improve the person's quality of life by looking after their mental and emotional well-being. 

How can you do that?

Listen to them. 

A good listener doesn’t have to provide solutions. Just let your loved one talk.

Try to understand their thoughts and emotions and encourage open and honest communication. 

Every cancer journey is unique. There will be good days and there will be hard days.

Be patient with your loved one. Try not to push them to do more than they feel they can. The best thing you can do is allow your loved one to move at their own pace and provide whatever support they need along the way.

Just show up

Many of my patients say how much they appreciate their loved ones just being present. 

Your loved one may be grateful for help with daily chores. 

They may enjoy your company for a meal or a walk. 

They might appreciate you providing some normalcy in their life. 

Just be there and remember not to push them too hard.

Remember, everyone responds differently to a cancer diagnosis. There’s no playbook for providing support. There’s no one right way, so be easy on yourself, just do what you can. 

I’ve been there. It’s hard.

Please reach out for support if you need it. 

You can read more about my experience with my mother's cancer journey and how it’s driven my obsession with integrative cancer care and health advocacy here

If you're struggling to support your loved one or if you think they’d benefit from a wellness framework that is preventative, restorative, and participatory, contact Mun-Yee today.

I can equip you with tools and strategies to reduce cancer risk and minimise its impact on your life. 

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