A woman places her hand on another woman's shoulder in support.

Supporting a Family Member With Cancer

One of the most important parts of any serious medical diagnosis is having the support of family and friends, however, if you haven’t experienced something similar yourself then knowing what to say and do can be difficult.

Tips for supporting someone with skin cancer

Here are a few tips:

Process your own emotions first

For someone who has cancer, telling my family and friends was an extremely difficult part of the process and at times I turned into the one who had to comfort those around me. As difficult as it is to HEAR someone you love has cancer, trust me, it’s far worse to actually have it. So try to talk to your own friends to help you process your own emotions, rather than burdening the person with cancer, who already has enough to deal with.

Listen

A lot of times we just want to be able to talk about how we feel about our lives with cancer. We aren’t expecting you to come up with a solution or to make us feel better, we just want to be heard! So don’t feel like you always have to say something and for crying out loud DO NOT say things like ‘well at least…’ ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘look at the silver-linings.' Cancer is unfair and sometimes we just need to vent and have someone to listen.

Educate yourself

Your family member or friend may not want to go into all the details about their cancer, because discussing the gory details can be painful. So it’s a good idea to educate yourself on their diagnosis. But don’t forget this doesn’t make you an authority on their treatment, so don’t start questioning their medical team because of some online study that you read.

Don't pretend you can relate

Often as humans, we want to sympathize and empathize, because no one wants to feel alone. However, if you have never been through cancer yourself you simply cannot relate, so don’t try to. One of the most infuriating things for me personally was when I would explain a side effect I was having from treatment eg: “wow the immunotherapy makes my joints so sore and I feel wrecked all the time" and my friend would say “omg I know, I didn’t get much sleep last night either, I feel the same.” No matter how irrational I might be being, a response like that would always frustrate me because, in my head, side effects from cancer treatment doesn’t seem the same as a bad night's sleep.

Ask them how they want to be supported

And finally, one of the most important and simplest things a family member can do to support someone with cancer, is to ask ‘how best can I support you?' It seems so simple, but people don’t often ask, they just assume. We all need support in different ways, so just ask your friend or family member what you can do, and then do that.

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