4 ways to ‘help’ when someone is diagnosed with cancer


A sense of community and caring has a powerful effect on healing. Here’s how to help someone who’s struggling.

We have all experienced it – someone you care about has been diagnosed with cancer.  You feel shocked. You feel helpless.  I learned about three good acquaintances who had new diagnoses this past week which has prompted me to write this post.

Before I had cancer, I remember feeling unsure and sometimes uncomfortable to find the words or actions to help someone. I think we all have an innate sense to help others but what could we possibly do for someone with cancer, especially someone who we care about but perhaps are not very close to, like a nice co-worker that you enjoy working with?

People often ask me:  What do I do?  What should I say?  I don’t want to say something to upset this person. And sometimes because people are unsure, they choose not to do anything at all, then they feel badly about that.

Here are 4 helpful Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. Express that you are thinking of her, that you’re sending positive, healing thoughts. I believe in the power of intention and when I was going through my treatment, I truly felt all the positive energy people were sending to me. This made me feel cared for which is invaluable.
  2. Keep in touch along the way.  Usually with the initial news of diagnosis, the buzz of people wanting to find out what’s going on is high, but over the months, the connections fade. It’s important for her to keep getting a steady stream of reminders that people are thinking of her, as she inevitably will go through many ups and downs.
  3. Do not say ‘Be Strong’.  The effect of hearing this from people can be negative for her, because it puts the pressure on her to always remain strong.  When she has down moments, which is normal and expected, she’ll feel inadequate and failed that she isn’t being strong.
  4. Ask what specifically you can do to help.  If you say “let me know if I can help in any way”, this is a lovely offer but usually your friend in need will not know how to respond. She won’t feel right asking for help or doesn’t know what she needs in that moment.  So a better question is “what specifically can I do to help?” and perhaps give her some examples of what you are willing and able to do.

I hope these tips are helpful. If this is not helpful to you today, perhaps it will be in the future.  Here’s a bonus tip:  send surprises to her – perhaps a little pick-me-up gift so she knows you’re thinking of her.

All the best,


10 thoughts on “4 ways to ‘help’ when someone is diagnosed with cancer

  1. Thank you for these, Wendy. Just got to reading your blog today:( Can I add one more thing? Try not to talk about other people’s diagnosis. Ever kind of cancer and every single diagnosis is different. It never helped me to hear all the stories when I was going through treatment and I’ve heard many, many others say the same thing.

    • Hi Kim,

      Yes, that’s another good one for sure. I had that too and still do. I think sometimes it can feel like your own situation is diminished when someone recounts all the other people they know with cancer.

      Of course you can always add additional comments or a different opinion if you would like, anytime.

      Thank you Kim,

  2. All great advise, some of which I have used in the past and some new idea’s, thank you again for keeping this up, always positive messages.

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