Home News & Events News BLOG: Advice for Supporting a Friend or Family Member with Cancer

Every day in the UK, around 1,000 people receive the news that they have cancer, according to Cancer Research UK A cancer diagnosis is devastating for the patient, but it can also greatly affect their friends and family. Cancer patients can receive supportive care from their oncology team and from Macmillan Cancer Support, but often, loved ones will want to play a supportive role too. 

Whether cancer is diagnosed in stage one or stage four, and whatever the prognosis is for survival and treatment, a cancer diagnosis can really bring to light the fragility of life, and friends and family of the patient are often best placed to offer the support a patient needs outside of a clinical setting when they’re at their most vulnerable.

If you have a loved one who has recently been diagnosed with cancer, here are some of the ways you can support them.

Process Your Emotions 

The first step to being able to offer support to your friend or relative who has cancer is to process your own emotions first. You may feel any spectrum of emotions including:

  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Shock
  • Numbness

These emotions may mirror those felt by the patient, and it’s completely normal to feel any or all of these feelings upon getting a diagnosis. It’s important to take time to process your emotions before you offer support to your loved one.  By taking the time to come to terms with the diagnosis and your feelings, you will be able to focus on your loved one and be there when they need you.

Research the Diagnosis

It’s a good idea to research the diagnosis so you have a better understanding of what type of cancer your loved one has. Many patients find it difficult to go into detail about their diagnosis and may not want to think about the details of it too much. If this is the case, do not push for more information – conduct your own research.

There is plenty of information online about the different types of cancer and diagnosis stages. Whilst every patient is different, it should give you a basic overview of what your friend or relative is going through. You may even be able to find out more about possible treatment options, as well as what can be expected as time progresses, such as changes to their appearance or side effects. This can be useful in preparing yourself so that you can offer support later on.

Supporting friends and family

Ask Permission to Ask Questions and Give Support

Some people who are diagnosed with cancer don’t like to talk about it and may not want to answer questions or receive immediate support – no matter how well intended your support is. It’s important to ask them directly whether they want to talk about it, answer questions, or accept support and help. If they decline, make sure you respect their decision and don’t make them feel guilty for saying no.

If they accept, ask them how best you can be there for them. Everyone has different needs and will react differently to support and advice.

Make Plans for the Future

People assume the worst they hear the word ‘cancer’, but it’s important to remember that a diagnosis doesn’t always mean someone’s life will be cut short or that they’ll have to undergo lengthy and physically debilitating treatments. As of 2011, 50% of people survived their cancer for 10 years or more. Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future.

A common feeling amongst people diagnosed with cancer is loneliness, with many feeling as though they are cut off and left out of plans made by friends and family members as a result of their cancer. This can be hard to come to terms with, especially where people are reluctant to book things like holidays and days out for future dates.

Continue to ask your loved one to make plans with you. They’ll be able to judge whether they feel up to it or whether their treatment plan allows for it. Cancer can easily take over someone’s day to day life and that can be daunting for many, so making plans and allowing them to retain some form normality will go a long way to supporting them throughout their diagnosis.

Offer Practical Help

Cancer will affect someone mentally as well as physically, but it’s important to remember that treatments can often cause physical stress and result in the need for practical help. The patient will be best placed to tell you whether or not they need physical help, be it in the form of assistance going to and from treatment appointments when fatigue and side effects can take hold, as well as after treatment or on days when they feel physically fatigued and may need help with personal care or house chores.

Again, don’t be offended if they say no, but it’s a good idea to offer practical help so that the patient knows you’re there and prepared to support them practically as and when they need it.

Talk About Other Things

Cancer can easily become the focus of someone’s life and affect every aspect of their wellbeing. They’ll likely be attending multiple appointments to meet withtheir oncologistand treatment team, where they’ll be discussing their diagnosis at length, so it’s completely normal for them to not want to talk about cancer outside of a medical setting.

In line with making plans and encouraging some form of normality, make sure you talk about different things with them, such as the weather, news, local happenings, your life, work, or their hobbies and interests. It can be a good distraction, and this can often prove to be the best method of support as it gives them something else to think about and will help with uplifting their mental state.

Supportive Care at Rutherford Cancer Centres

At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we offer a range of supportive care for both patients and their friends and family. From social support and complementary therapies to spiritual and psychological support, we are here to help make patients and their loved ones feel supported, safe, and at ease.

For additional advice and support, Macmillan Cancer Support are available on 0808 808 0000. They are able to provide information on the emotional, physical, and financial strains a cancer diagnosis can cause. You can also refer your loved one to their online community where they can talk to people who have been or who are going through the same thing. You can also receive support from Macmillan Cancer Support–to ensure you receive the support you need too.


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