Supporting a loved one diagnosed with Cancer

It is important to equip ourselves with the right knowledge and skills to be able to effectively support loved ones living with cancer. 

Has someone close to you been diagnosed with cancer? Dealing with the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of the disease can be extremely difficult and your support and love are crucial to the ongoing wellbeing of your loved one.

Stephné Jacobs, Chairperson of Reach for Recovery, believes the Reach For Recovery volunteers, who have themselves all experienced the same journey, provide vital support to those affected by breast cancer. “Our focus is also on helping patients recover with an optimal quality of life. Everyone, regardless of their financial situation, deserves the same access to services, support, and care,” says Jacobs.

Playing for Pink CEO, Edith Venter, says people who have not personally struggled with cancer, though well-meaning, may not be able to fully comprehend what their loved one is going through. “It is important to equip ourselves with the right knowledge and skills to be able to effectively support loved ones living with cancer.”

With this in mind, Playing for Pink has provided a few tips on how to support loved ones through this challenging, and often lonely, journey.

Process your emotions

Receiving the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t only affect the patient, but also his or her loved ones. We are faced with our own set of emotions and fears of losing someone we love. It is important to process our own feelings in order to fully support our loved ones.

Actively and consciously listen

Listening is a skill that takes practice. Human beings tend to want to give advice in an attempt to make things easier or fix the situation. As someone in a support role, it’s better to listen as this helps your loved ones express their feelings and lets them know they have a safe space to voice their fears and concerns during this difficult time. Active listening means repeating aspects of what the other person has to say and asking questions for clarification. This shows that you have heard the other person and understand what he or she has said.

Practical (and timely) support

Practical support is just as important as emotional support. It may help to focus on tangible, everyday things you can do to make things a little easier for your loved one. Some people struggle with accepting practical support because they don’t want to inconvenience anyone and want to remain as independent as possible.

Simple ways to offer practical support can be in the form of:

  • Offering lifts to doctors’ appointments
  • Helping with housework
  • Taking dogs for a walk
  • Cooking dinners

It is important, however, to respect your loved ones’ privacy and that it is perfectly okay if your offers of assistance are declined. Make sure the offer stands for whenever they feel they’d like to take you upon it.


In the face of the overwhelming stress, adding a bit of laughter can be highly therapeutic. Always be sensitive to your loved one’s emotions as there are a time and place for everything. Be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed. A light conversation or a funny story can make a friend’s day.

Make plans

The treatment process can be a long and exhausting process, but making plans for the future gives your loved one something to look forward too. Remember to make the plans flexible in case they need to be canceled or rescheduled if necessary.

Talk about topics other than cancer 

Ask about interests, hobbies, family and other topics that are not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about their disease.


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