Q. I'd like more information about how to help a close friend being treated for cancer. I'm also wondering if a support group could help me, too?


There are different ways to help support family and friends who are coping with cancer. I’d begin by reading our fact sheet, What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One?.

Here are additional suggestions:

Listen. We want to be optimistic and positive with people with cancer. However, when they express fear or sadness, simply responding that “everything will be fine” can sometimes make them feel that their concerns are not being heard. Listening to it all – the negative thoughts included — helps them to share their most important feelings.

Be specific about the help you can offer. Telling a person with cancer to “Call me if I can help with anything” often puts him or her in a difficult position: Do you really mean anything? When is the right time to ask? It’s better to ask if you can help in a specific way. Perhaps you can research medical information about his or her cancer, or take on necessary tasks like driving him or her to treatment, cooking meals or handling other household chores.

Support your loved one’s treatment decisions. We all have our own opinions, but ultimately it is up to the person with cancer to decide what is best for him or her. Offer your own opinion or advice only when asked, and respect your loved one’s right to decide the course of his or her life in the way that accords with his or her values.

In support groups for caregivers, it’s possible you’ll find a lot more specific information about how and where people have found medical care, tips for managing the side effects of treatment, and suggestions for finding good resources. A caregiver group can also give you a place to talk about the emotional challenges of caring for someone while still caring for yourself. As a caregiver, there may be things that you feel you just can’t share with your loved one, like your own fears and concerns. Sometimes, just knowing that you’re not the only one having difficulty can relieve some of the stress.

For more information about caregiving in general, the National Alliance for Caregiving offers a wide range of educational materials. The Caregiver Resource Directory is also a great resource.