Cancer Support FAQs: How to Help When It's Someone You Love

October 10, 2018

Couple laying on grass

Every cancer journey is different — and so are the ways individuals deal with a cancer diagnosis. So if you’re a close friend or family member, how can you help? Bobbi Gillis, manager of cancer support services with Renown Institute for Cancer, explains more.

Just as we are all unique, we all also have our own ways of dealing with difficult news. For some, receiving a cancer diagnosis is devastating, and they want family members rallying around them in support; for others, they want to be left completely alone. So how do you know what is helpful and what is hurtful?

For advice, we reached out to Bobbi Gillis, manager of cancer support services with Renown Institute for Cancer.

Support, Defined

What are some ways to support a loved one when they find out they have cancer?
First and foremost, let them know you are there for them. As we can all imagine, a cancer diagnosis is scary, and it’s helpful just to know you have support if and when you need it.

Second, try to listen and give advice only when you are asked. In trying to help as much as possible, many family and friends take on the role of “researcher” to find out more treatment options, but it’s best to avoid saying “you should try this” or “you ought to do that.” Patients are already dealing with a lot of information at once from care providers and their own research. You don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed or question the treatment they’re planning.

What are some words of encouragement or support people can use?
Just as you would in any difficult situation, speak from the heart and be genuine. But also be careful not to show false optimism or to tell them to just stay positive; saying these things may discount their fears and concerns.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • “We’re going to get through this together.”
  • “Count me in to help out.”
  • “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care and I’m here.”

What resources are available to patients? What about their families?
For patients with cancer, we offer support groups in-person or online. There are also support groups specific to the type of cancer you or your loved one have. You can check these out on our website,, or ask your care provider. There are also support groups and emotional support services available for family and friends.

How can family and friends help throughout cancer treatment?
It’s great to offer help, but it’s important to be specific when you offer. Saying “call me if you need something” is very general, and people may feel like they’re putting you out when they do ask for something specific. Instead, offer help with certain tasks — like driving them to treatment, babysitting, making them dinner or buying groceries.

As much as possible, keep things normal. For some patients, being able to do everyday things like walking the dog helps them feel better. Loved ones can try to do too much for a patient, and while well-intentioned, this can make them feel less useful after being diagnosed.

Renown Institute for Cancer | 775-982-4000

At the Renown Health Institute for Cancer, our experienced team provides the support and care to maintain the highest quality of life and then achieve the best possible outcome, all in one location that’s close to home. Our dedicated team, clinical expertise and advanced treatment options allow us to tailor care to each patient.

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