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It’s important to support cancer patients during their journey, and there are some unique ways you can do so wether you are a friend, acquaintance or family member.


Set up a care team, if there isn't one already in place.

This can be as simple as setting up a shared calendar to organize tasks that friends and family can complete on behalf of the patient. One often overlooked aspect of a cancer diagnosis is that keeping all friends and family informed can be quite taxing on the patient, so it can be helpful to have someone who is willing to write emails or communicate on their behalf and with their permission.


Help, but don't stress the patient.

It’s important here to pay attention to the patient, their personality and their mood. Some patients appreciate a great deal of help while others prefer less. Overdoing it can be taxing on the patient and could be counterproductive, while staying too distant could leave them with needs. Pay attention to comments the patient makes, and do your best to match your support with their comfort level. Pay the same attention to the caregiver as well.

Give consistant support.

During initial diagnosis, we tend to see a flood of support from well meaning friends, family members, church groups, and more. Over time, the initial flood of support tends to fall off as people continue along with their own life. This can be somewhat hurtful to a patient, so make sure you are there the whole way, and that you are ready give the same amount of support you always did.


Don't draw correlations.

It may seem comforting to tell a patient something to the effect of “My Uncle had this too, and he’s fine now”. Unfortunately this is not as comforting as it sounds. Every patient has a unique journey and unique emotions, and broad generalizations may come off as impersonal or uncaring.


Be prepared to talk about difficult emotions.

Cancer patients often deal with a range of emotions, from fear, to sadness, anger and anxiety. You should be prepared to deal with these emotions and understand that if the patient is upset, it may not be directed at you or caused by you. It is important to be open, caring and patient.


Don't place blame.

In some cases, well-meaning friends may be tempted to say something like, “I always told you to quit smoking” or other phrases that can place the blame for a cancer diagnosis on the patient. Even if that lifestyle is thought to be a component in the diagnosis, now is typically not the time to drive that point home.


Help the patient adjust through emotional support.

Often, this starts with listening. it can be difficult to know exactly what to say to a cancer patient, but the important thing is to listen, be caring and be open.


Be careful giving gifts that could affect their immune system or upset senses.

Avoid giving gifts with strong smells. Additionally, many patients need to adhere to special diets during their treatment, so be careful giving gifts of food, and even if you do, check with the caregiver first.


Only give qualified advice.

Be careful not to offer medical advice if you are not qualified to do so. Also, be careful not to offer dietary advice if you are not qualified to do so, or if it is being overseen by someone more qualified. Many treatment regimens require specific diets, and accidentally leading a patient off that path can adversely effect treatment outcomes.


Remember that the emotions of a cancer journey do not end after treatment.

The isolation and worry that a cancer diagnosis can cause often will stay with the patient even after successful treatment. Be sure to be there for them as they adjust to their new life.


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