Tips for supporting a loved one with cancer

3 minute read time.
Tips for supporting a loved one with cancer

When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know how to support them.

They may need emotional support if they feel overwhelmed or anxious, or they may need practical help with managing things like appointments, work and childcare. Sometimes, they may need help with both.

It’s important that you look after yourself too. There are many places you can get information and support for looking after a loved one – you might find the following tips and links useful.

 Talking and listening

Simply being there to listen and offer comfort can be a great support to your friend, family member or partner:

  • choose a quiet place to talk where you won’t be interrupted
  • acknowledge their feelings but try not to say that everything will be fine, as this can feel dismissive or like you’re not listening to them
  • allow them to express themselves – if they cry or get distressed, give them some time to process how they are feeling.
  • It’s ok not to have all the answers – just listening can be enough
  • it’s usually best to avoid telling them about other people’s experiences with cancer that you may have heard about. Every situation is different, and they will get the information they need from their healthcare team
  • give them as much time as they need, but it can also be helpful to set a limit and to do something nice together afterwards. Talking can be tiring and emotionally draining – for you both
  • if they don’t want to talk, let them know that this is ok. They might not feel ready, or it might not be helpful for them. 

Practical support

Offering practical support to someone with cancer can help them feel more in control, and able to focus on what is important to them.

Talk to the person you’re supporting and try to identify where they might need help, and what kind of impact their treatment could have. This will vary for everybody, but these are some things you could offer to do:

  • help them get to appointments – you could drive them, travel with them, or help them work out the route if it’s somewhere unfamiliar
  • do some everyday tasks such as cleaning, washing, vacuuming and cooking
  • look after any children, other people they care for, or pets while they are at appointments or resting
  • help with personal care like bathing, washing their hair, cutting their nails, changing dressings, managing their medicines or helping them do exercises
  • help them to plan their day
  • socialise and spend time with them if they would like company.

There are healthcare professionals and organisations that can help with looking after someone with cancer, including:

  • a social worker, who can assess what help may be needed
  • an occupational therapist, who can help with aids and equipment in the home
  • sitting and befriending services provided by various charities
  • meals at home (meals on wheels)
  • laundry services.

You can find out more about these resources in our booklet, Looking after someone with cancer.

Are you a carer?

If you give any unpaid help or support or care to someone who could not manage without it, you are a carer. You can find more information about being a carer and getting support as a carer for someone with cancer on our website.

Looking after yourself

Supporting someone with cancer can be emotionally and physically exhausting, and it’s important to take care of yourself too. This will help you to support your loved one in the best way you can.

You may find you need time off from caring for someone, to give yourself a break. This is called respite care. Respite care includes things like:

  • sitting services
  • day centres
  • short stays in a hospice, hospital or care home.

To get respite care, you can ask social services for an assessment of your needs. This is called a carer’s assessment.

Further information

You might also find these web pages useful:

Getting support as a carer (Macmillan)

Carers allowance (Macmillan)

Cancer and dementia (Macmillan)

If the person you care for is dying (Macmillan)

The Respite Association – a charity providing short-term help for carers by funding respite care.

Carers Trust – a charity offering support, information, advice and services for people caring for a family member or friend.

Carers UK – a charity providing information and support to carers across the UK. They have an online forum and can put people in contact with local support groups for carers.

You can also contact the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00. The line is open 7 days a week, 8am-8pm. Our support line has access to an interpretation service to speak to someone in your language, including BSL. When you call, start the conversation by requesting your language first in English.