Knowing how to help a friend with cancer

Helping a friend with cancer does not have to be difficult.  Try to treat them the same. It is important not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship.  Continuing friendships and regular activities after a cancer diagnosis is good for the healing process. But you need to remember that they also need encouragement and support before, during AND after treatment has finished.

Here are some easy pointers to help

Do not do the following unless asked

Discuss alternative treatments. 

You may mean well but this is not required unless asked for. New/alternative treatments or cancer curing diets are usually not what a person with cancer wants to hear.

Give advice.

It is very hard to give good advice when you don’t understand what the person is going through. It is safer to ask questions and listen.

Other people’s cancer

Unless you have an uplifting story that directly relates to the person you are talking to it is best not to talk about other peoples cancer

Talking about cancer

Each person responds to their cancer diagnosis in their own way. If they start the conversation, let them take the conversation where they choose.  If don’t start the conversation ask if they would like to talk about it. This is a respectful way to find out what they need.

But it is also important to let your friend know it’s okay if he or she doesn’t reply or want to talk.


Please remember that people with cancer don’t always want to think or talk about the disease.” Laughing and talking about other things can be good distractions when they need it.


Offering to help

You may need to gently remind your friend that you do not expect them to return the help and you only want to help because you care. You could suggest helping with specific tasks. Asking “how can I help?” can be too overwhelming and you are most likely to get an answer that they don’t need your help when you do this.

Please do remember that there are no set rules and each friendship is different. Let your unique relationship guide you regarding what you can do for them.  It could also be useful for you to learn about their diagnosis, as your friend might not want to talk about it and this could help with your approach.

Tips for choosing the right cancer gift

Cancer gifts can ease this stress and show that you care. But it can be hard know what is appropriate and also therapy safe.

We suggest that you try to understand the treatment your friend is getting when giving a cancer gift:  When people think of cancer many think of the effects that therapy can bring like hair loss. But advances in cancer research this no longer always happens.  So for, just because someone is having chemotherapy, it doesn’t mean their hair will fall out or they will feel sick and you need to buy them something to cover their head.

Most importantly do think about the person when giving a cancer gift:  It is not a case of one size fits all.



Dr Shara Cohen

Founder of Cancer Care Parcel

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