Supporting friends - how to ask for, or give support when you or your friend has cancer

8 minute read time.
Supporting friends - how to ask for, or give support when you or your friend has cancer

After a cancer diagnosis, it might be difficult to know what support you need from friends. When you’re supporting someone you know with cancer, it can be difficult to know how best to support them.

Some people feel that they’re not receiving the support they expected from those around them. Some may even feel that their cancer diagnosis has led them to feel ignored or excluded.

In this Community News Blog, we’ll be sharing thoughts around being supported and tips on best supporting someone when they have cancer.

How best to support my friend? 

If someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, you will probably want to help. But you might not know what you can do. Or you may have trouble finding the right words when speaking to them.

You might be so worried about what to say that you avoid talking. This can leave the other person feeling like they are facing the cancer alone. Although it is not you who has cancer, it can be a very hard time for you too. You will need time to accept things and cope with your own feelings. Talk to a partner, your family or friends about how you feel. You may find they want to share their feelings with you too.

We’re sorry to hear that your friend has cancer. It sounds like you’re keen to offer the support that they need and we hope that makes a big difference to how they are feeling. Members had some advice to offer around supporting a friend and what kinds of support were helpful.

As a supporting friend, you might feel a sense of powerlessness, or worry that your own responsibilities won't allow you enough time to help. You might feel that a grand gesture is needed from you, in response to such a big life event for your friend. We hope it brings you comfort to know that it's often the smallest deeds that can be most appreciated.

How to get the best support from friends?

When friends ask how they can help, it might be hard to know what to ask for. This member came to the Community to ask for ideas. 

You can click on the link at the end of the quote above if you'd like to read what members suggested. 

It's good to know that some of you have good friends to rely on. Sadly we also sometimes hear that people simply aren’t receiving the emotional or practical support that they would hope to receive from their friends.

The Community had some thoughts around this and how to ask your friends for what you need.

 Tips from Macmillan

Macmillan have information and support for anyone supporting a loved one who has cancer. There are some links at the end of this blog to help you find the right support for you. We’d recommend reading through the tips in full, but here are just a few of the suggestions for supporting a friend after diagnosis.

  • Visit them, especially if you are worried they are feeling lonely. But let them know it is okay for them to tell you if they want to be alone or do not want visitors.
  • If you cannot visit, you could call or text them, or send an email or a card. Let them know they do not have to reply.
  • Give them time to talk. It is sometimes important that you just listen.
  • Spend time with them. You could go for a walk or watch TV or films together.

Find lots more support and tips on Macmillan's pages about supporting a friend.

Read the Macmillan Cancer Information Team blog about supporting a loved one with cancer.

The Online Community is a safe anonymous space where you can talk about how you are feeling. Whether you have cancer or you're supporting someone with cancer, we're here for you. 

Why not start a conversation in your forums about what support you have appreciated from friends, or ask for ideas of how to best support someone?

You can also get support from:

  • Our Support Line teams are available 7 days a week, 8am-8pm on freephone 0808 808 00 00, email or live webchat.

  • A counsellor – your GP can give you more information.

We also have separate information for you if the person you are supporting is:

  • Very interesting blog. I can empathise with the room forum member, that friends drop off because they expect you to be the same person you were pre cancer. 

  • Good advice thankyou! Im a little disappointed that my daughter hasnt contacted me re the removal of a large BCC from my face...when I contacted her for a chat...she put me off for a week as not convenient!

  • I have support of a very good friend but no support from family , I 've only  seen my son once  since I came out of hospital and that was because he brought my cat back , I text message and one phone call and that was only to see i wasn't dead, I used to go to support group but I have hearing issues so I would just sit there and miss what was being said so I stopped going , I did tell the McMillan person I wouldn't be back that I'll manage on my own . I see oncologist next month for results and do I go alone again or ask my friend to come with me , she has a good bit to travel to the hospital and I feel guilty in asking her so going alone seems to be the answer . 

  • Hi Sassay,

    I hope you have found reading the above blog helpful. We often share support information and guest stories here in our Community news blog.

    I’m sorry that the support group didn’t work out, but I hope you’ll find it helpful to connect with people here on the Online Community. Our groups are safe and supportive spaces to ask questions, chat with others and offer support back by sharing your personal experiences.

    I’m sure if you asked your friend for support, they would be happy to help in any way they can. Even if they cannot make the appointment with you, they may offer to check in with you after the appointment to see how you are. Our Talking about cancer booklet can help start difficult conversations and includes tips for putting your feelings into words.

    If you need a listening ear and want to talk to our Support Line teams after your appointment, please do get in touch with our Nurses and Support specialists. They are on hand to provide emotional and practical help from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week.

    To get in touch please call 0808 808 00 00, send an email or use live webchat during the opening hours.

    Do you have a specialist cancer nurse assigned to you? Usually, there will be a cancer Nurse assigned to a patient to offer support. They sometimes are able to come into appointments. Please do give your consultant a call to see if this can be arranged.

    There is some practical tips on the Macmillan website to help you prepare and get the most out of your appointment alongside some suggested questions that you may want to ask. I hope these pages can be useful.

    I hope the above information is helpful and you’ll consider some of the support options. If you need any help with using the Online Community, please don’t hesitate to email

    Best wishes, 

    Macmillan's Online Community team