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Healthy You

When a Loved One Has Cancer: How You Can Help

Friday, October 05, 2018 8:45 AM

A cancer diagnosis is scary, it can seem overwhelming and hard to navigate through. Some survivors have mentioned that they have lost some of their friends during treatment. More often than not, this is because friends and family members want to help but don’t know how. Susan Triner, cancer survivor, shares her firsthand experience in what helps, what doesn’t and what you can do.


A common reaction to the news of a loved one’s diagnosis is shock. What are some things that are “okay” to say and others that should be avoided?
Do not say “You will be alright” or anything to do with what you should do to get better – for example, foods to eat to heal you. Believe it or not, people have told me to go on what their animal’s treatment was for cancer. That should be an obvious “no!”
What you can say, “What can I do to help?”

What things can friends and family members, and neighbors and coworkers do to help?

  1. Cleaning help
  2. Weekend getaways with friends
  3. Cards that say “thinking of you.”
  4. Texts. They don't need to say anything but “hugs” or something simple.
  5. Just going for coffee
  6. Help driving to chemo. They might be able to drive themselves but it’s not so lonely when you are with someone.

What different approaches can be taken depending on distance?
Don't overstay! If you are from out of town, stay in a hotel even if they insist you stay with them. We have lots of bathroom issues and we fatigue easy. We might have the best intentions asking you to stay with us, but it actually ends up more taxing. Unless we live alone, then it would probably be helpful. But that's not my situation.

Any other advice or words of wisdom that you’d like to share?
Don't expect too much from people. We all have our “roles" in our lives with people. For example, I am the event planner for my family and my friends and that won't change. So if I sit to wait for people to plan things now for us to do, I will be very sad and think no one likes me now, or people are trying to avoid me with the situation I am in. But in reality, we have our roles and people don't change their roles. So I have learned this, and now continue to plan stuff. Don't expect people to do something they have never done before – it usually won't happen and you will be disappointed.

Stop, breathe, relax and try to be thankful for the moments you have left. They can still be very fulfilling. And never forget that we are all going to die so don't lose your empathy for others. We really all are in the same boat. One life to live, and it will end someday, so try to enjoy the ride no matter the circumstances.