How to support someone living with cancer

Learning that someone you know has cancer can be overwhelming and scary, both for the person living with cancer and for their family and friends. While the diagnosis may leave you feeling helpless, there are concrete ways you can offer support and help make the journey more manageable. Here are some practical ways to support someone living with cancer:

Supporting a friend or family member

Offer encouragement and support

When someone you care about is going through cancer, it can be difficult to know what to say. However there are plenty of ways to offer encouragement and support.

Be specific: Instead of saying "let me know if you need anything," offer specific help, such as "I can pick up groceries for you this week" or "I'd like to cook you dinner on Thursday."

Listen: Sometimes the best thing you can do is listen. Allow the person to share their feelings and concerns, and be a supportive listener.

Be positive: Encourage the person with cancer with positive affirmations and remind them that they are strong and resilient. Let them know you believe in them and their ability to overcome this challenge.

Avoid cliches: Phrases like "everything happens for a reason" or "at least it's not worse" can be hurtful and dismissive. Instead, offer genuine empathy and support.

Organise a meal train

Cooking and grocery shopping can become difficult for someone living with cancer, especially if they are undergoing treatment or dealing with side effects. Setting up a meal train, where family and friends take turns providing meals for the person with cancer and their family, can be a great way to help. There are several meal train websites available that make organising and communicating easy.

Set-up a call tree

Cancer treatments can be long and arduous, and the person living with cancer may not feel up to answering texts and calls from everyone who wants to check in. A call tree is a great way to keep everyone informed without overwhelming the person with cancer. Set up a call tree with a small group of family and friends and assign each person a specific day to check in on the person with cancer. This way, everyone stays connected and informed, and the person with cancer can conserve their energy. This may continue for weeks or even months during the lengthy recovery stage.

Help with the domestics

Cancer treatments and side effects can leave the person with cancer feeling exhausted and unable to keep up with household chores. Offering to hire a cleaner, or helping to clean the person's house yourself, can be a great way to take some of the pressure off. Many cancer organisations have cleaning programs or recommendations for cleaners, so check with local organisations to find resources.

Supporting a colleague

Supporting a colleague who is living with cancer can be just as important as supporting a friend or family member. Here are some additional tips to consider:

Respect their privacy

Not everyone wants to share their cancer diagnosis with their colleagues, and it's important to respect their privacy. If they do share their diagnosis with you, keep the information confidential unless they give you permission to share it with others.

Offer practical help

Just like with a friend or family member, offering practical help can be a great way to support a colleague with cancer. Offer to cover their workload while they're out for treatment or help them with tasks that may be difficult for them, such as taking notes during meetings or organising their workspace. Remember to be understanding, they may find work therapeutic and a way to maintain their independence.

Be flexible

Cancer treatments can be unpredictable, and your colleague may need to take time off or adjust their schedule as needed. Be flexible and understanding of their needs and try to accommodate them as much as possible.

Check in regularly

Regularly checking in with your colleague can help them feel supported and connected to their workplace. Send them a thoughtful email or text message. Let them know that you're there for them, and that you're thinking of them.

Arrange a care package

A cancer care package can be a thoughtful way to show support and provide comfort for someone going through cancer treatment. It is a collection of items that are meant to help the person cope with the physical and emotional challenges. You can either design your own care package tailored to the individual's needs and preferences or buy pre-made care packages online.

Offer emotional support

Living with cancer can be emotionally challenging, and your colleague may need emotional support in addition to practical help. Listen to their concerns and offer words of encouragement and support. Let them know that they're not alone, and that you're there to help in any way you can.

Remember that everyone's experience with cancer is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. The most important thing is to be kind, patient, and supportive. Be respectful of their opinion and requests.

Life may change in unexpected ways after a cancer diagnosis. At Zurich, we understand every cancer journey is unique and we’re here to help our customers feel healthier with Zurich Evolve. If you or someone you know is living with cancer, read our holistic support guide. Together, we can make a difficult journey a little bit easier.

For more information visit:

Cancer Council of Australia

Cancer Australia