A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Ways to offer meaningful support

WCouple sitting on a bench by a lakehen someone you know is faced with a difficult life situation, human nature is to find words that will sincerely help and support that person. Learning someone in your life has been diagnosed with cancer can cause great uncertainty about how to provide meaningful support. What do you say? How do you act?

The American Cancer Society offers some “do’s and don’ts” to consider as you show your concern during a stressful time.


  • Say something. Express sadness or concern, or even that you don’t know what to say in these circumstances. What’s important is to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Take your cues from them. Respect their need to share or for privacy.
  • Respect their decisions about how their cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.
  • Include the person with cancer in usual social events. Trust that they will tell you if the commitment is too much to manage.
  • Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most, not advice.
  • Offer to help in concrete, specific ways. But always ask before doing something, no matter how helpful you think you’re being.
  • Keep in touch in a way that’s best for them. Would they appreciate cards or emails, or using a communication webpage like Caring Bridge (www.caringbridge.org)?


  • Discuss a friend or relative who died, or had a horrible cancer treatment experience. Likewise, avoid saying that it’ll be OK if they just stay positive. It’s not necessarily true and may add pressure rather than reassurance.
  • Offer expressions of extreme concern as they aren’t necessarily helpful. Often, the person with cancer ends up having to comfort and reassure everyone else and doesn’t get the support he or she needs.
  • Take things too personally. It’s normal for someone experiencing cancer to have good days and bad days, be more quiet than usual, need time alone and be angry at times.
  • Be afraid to talk about the illness.
  • Always feel you have to talk about cancer. They may enjoy conversations that don’t involve the illness.
  • Tell them “I can imagine how you must feel,” because you really can’t.
  • Be afraid to hug or touch them if that was a part of your friendship before the illness.

Cancer survivorship services can provide additional support resources.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View our comment policy