They are in for the fight of their life, and you want to help, but HOW?? Here are 20+ ways to help a loved one battling cancer.
“The good news is Leah is 10 weeks pregnant. The bad news is she also has stage 3 breast cancer.”
At that moment, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room. The phone in my hand threatened to slide out and crash to the floor, so I gripped it even harder than necessary. Even though my mind started racing in a million different directions, and all that came out of my mouth was, “Ryan, no…”
Eventually, we ended the call, and my family went back to the business of making pizza for our weekly pizza & a movie night, but I couldn’t focus on anything but my sister-in-law’s situation.
Pregnant AND cancer. Flashing back, I remembered so clearly making my own “it’s cancer” calls. Good grief, I thought, it feels just as helpless on THIS side of the diagnosis…
Getting the Diagnosis
Two years ago, I got that life-altering call about my own cancer diagnosis, and it seems like every time I turn around after that, I’m getting yet another call, email, or Facebook message about another young person beginning their own battle with cancer.
Cancer USED to be an “old person’s disease,” but not anymore. It seems like more and more cases are happening in YOUNG people. Of the cases I’ve heard about in the past two years, I’m the oldest – and I’m 36! My sister-in-law, Leah, is only 31.
We’re so YOUNG!!
Regardless of how old we are when we receive the diagnosis, it’s never easy. Everything in my world felt out of my control, and I tail-spun hard into anxiety and depression. Leah is able to face her diagnosis more pragmatically, as simply “the next hard thing set before her.” But no matter how we are able to handle it, living with and battling cancer is an all-consuming situation. While the rest of the world keeps plugging along, our existence suddenly revolves around diet changes, doctor appointment, treatment schedules, and doing what we have to do to just survive.
When Your LOVED ONE Is Diagnosed with Cancer
What I didn’t realize until recently is that it’s hard to be on the outside-looking-in side of the diagnosis-treatment drama, too.
We want to help. We care about these people! But, we don’t know what we could do to make this trial easier for them. We don’t know how to support them well. We don’t know HOW to help!
It’s a terrible feeling.
But, it’s also not a feeling we need to verbalize to the person actually going through the battle personally. THEY are not responsible for how WE feel, and they’re dealing with enough without adding OUR frustration, helplessness, or resulting pity to the list.
So, what CAN we do to help from the sidelines of the cancer battle?
I’ve had this particular post on the backburner for a long time, but until I was faced with the question personally, I didn’t feel a strong need to write it.
Now, knowing that many more people in my immediate circle are likely struggling with this same desire to help a loved one battling cancer, God showed me quite clearly that it’s time.
If you have a loved one battling cancer, and you want to know how best to help them, this post is for you. I’ve drawn from my own experience, polled other members of my cancer survivor support group, and even gotten a few ideas from Leah, as she’s beginning her own journey.
Just like each person has their own unique Personality mix, every person battling cancer is different and will handle the fight differently. So, not all of the suggestions in this list will be right for everyone. But, I’m willing to bet SOMETHING will jump out at you that would be incredibly helpful for YOUR loved one.
Use this list as a jumping off point – an educated guess – and pay close attention to how your loved one responds. Lord willing, they will be thankful for your support and relieved at having one less thing to worry about just now!
Here are the BEST suggestions I’ve found for how to help a loved one battling cancer!
This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service through these links, I may receive a small commission, which helps to keep my family and this blog afloat. Your price, as always, stays exactly the same. Thank you for your support!
As always, I am not a health professional, and I do not play one on the internet. I am simply a mom sharing her best tips and tricks for supporting her family’s health and wellness. Always talk with your doctor before beginning a new wellness routine — bonus points if you can find a holistic practitioner or Functional Medicine doctor near you! View my complete terms & conditions here.
Helping through Food
Eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) is not advised during treatment – and if your loved one is focusing on nourishing the body during chemo, SAD is DEFINITELY not a good idea! But with so little energy to start with, making changes to their diet — and making food, in general — is incredibly difficult. So, one of the biggest ways you can help your loved one in their battle is to help with food organization, shopping, & cooking.
Many conventional “cancer treatment cookbooks” recommend high-carb, high-sugar meals and treats like pasta, crackers, milkshakes, and ice cream-based smoothies that are supposedly “easy to digest.” However, serving cancer patients an over-abundance of simple carbs and SUGAR is NOT a loving thing to do, and ultimately does NOT support their health. I won’t get on that particular soapbox here, but you can hop over to The #1 Mistake Cancer Patients Make (and doctors encourage!) to read more about WHY it’s so important to avoid sugar.
To truly help your loved one through food, focus on GAPS or anti-inflammatory diet meals and snacks. If there are more family members involved, they may like the healing foods in these diets, or they may prefer something else and separate meals may be necessary. Either way, the goal here is to provide the family with nourishing foods they don’t have to worry about planning or preparing themselves.
Organize Meals for the Family
One of the tools a friend of mine started using years ago is called Take Them A Meal. It’s an online organizational system that allows friends and family to sign up to take someone a meal on specific days and times. There is even a section where you can leave notes for meal preppers about food allergies, preferences, numbers of adults and children, guests staying with the family, etc.
If your loved one lives close to extended family, has a strong network of friends or church family, coordinating a Take Them a Meal schedule would be an incredible way to help. You can be the go-to person for all things food for the family and create a printout of their specific food/nutrition needs and ensure meal providers understand the dietary restrictions and are willing to comply with the wishes of the family. (And not just bring ice cream and snack cakes because they THINK they’re being helpful. 🙄) Think of yourself as your loved one’s first line of defense when it comes to food and nutrition!
Take Care of Their Grocery Shopping
If organizing isn’t your thing, you can offer to go grocery shopping, pick up an online grocery order, or send the family gift cards for local grocery stores. Finances almost ALWAYS get tight for those battling cancer, and wholesome, nourishing food is NOT cheap, so every little bit can help!
Stock Them Up on Homemade Meat Stock, Ferments, or Raw Dairy
If you are particularly gifted in making homemade meat stock (which is easier on a compromised digestive system than bone broth) or fermented vegetables (which are great for re-populating the gut with beneficial bacteria after chemo kills it all), those items would be great, healing gifts to keep your loved one stocked up on.
Raw dairy products – milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, kefir, etc. – are all great gifts for anyone trying to heal their gut, as well. You can search for a local, raw milk farms on RealMilk.com or Agrilicious.org, if you don’t already have a raw dairy source to pass along.
Helping through Service
There are a million ways to help a loved one battling cancer around the house or with everyday life tasks, but here are a few ideas to get your own creative juices flowing:
Arrange Child or Pet Care
For loved ones with children at home, consider stepping in to organize childcare or playdates. It’s important for kiddos to be well cared for while parents to through treatment, especially if they’re old enough to understand the seriousness of the situation.
My mom came down to stay with us during every chemo round, knowing I would essentially be incapacitated – sleeping and recovering – for 4-5 days after treatment. Knowing my baby was being cared for in a healthy, safe environment, by someone I loved and trusted while I couldn’t do it was HUGE for me.
If your loved one doesn’t have children, but does have pets, offer to help take care of their pets. Even if you can’t be there to take care of their fur babies yourself, you could find a local pet-sitter or caregiver through Rover.com and pay for their services while your loved one recovers.
There is nearly ALWAYS a need for transportation in a cancer-battling family. Whether you’re transporting the patient to and from doctor appointments, treatments, the pharmacy, or taking their kiddos to ballet, soccer, or trumpet lessons, someone is always going somewhere. Offer to chauffer and provide a listening ear while you drive. 😊Wanting to help your loved one who is battling cancer, but you're not sure how? Check out this list of 20+ ideas to get you started! Click To Tweet
Set Up a Date Night for Them
For those times when your loved one is feeling well enough, offer to keep the kiddos, so the parents can go out on a date! Keeping a marriage going during cancer treatment is hard, so those times when they DO feel well enough to go out are precious and not to be missed.
If you can’t babysit yourself, arrange for childcare, send them a gift card for a local restaurant or movie theater, and encourage the couple to take an evening to themselves.
Do Their House or Yard Work
This one was my absolute favorite, and the best part for YOU is you don’t have to be local to help in this way! A dear friend who lives several states away wanted to help while I was going through chemo, so she arranged for a trustworthy, local woman to clean our house once a month, right before treatment.
If you’ve read my post on the 3 DIY recipes I use to clean my entire house, you already understand how much I hate cleaning. Knowing I had a CLEAN house to come home to after a long day of treatment – knowing *I* wasn’t the one who had to do the cleaning – was PHENOMENAL.
Perhaps your loved one is more on the neat end of the spectrum and is distressed at the prospect of NOT being able to keep their house as pristine as they would like it to be. This tip can still be SUPER helpful! Taking care of the housework, yard work, or home maintenance (or paying someone else to do it if you’re unable or long-distance) may just be the best thing you could do for them!
Helping through Gifts
Let’s face it: money always seems to be in short supply when we’re missing work for treatment and recovery, trying to pay medical bills, and fighting insurance companies. Any way you can help your loved one financially will be a HUGE blessing!
Organize & Promote a Fundraiser
I set up a GoFundMe account to “Keep Holth House Afloat!” when my husband lost his job and a month later I was diagnosed with cancer. It was a ROUGH time for our family, and I HATED having to ask people for money, but with no money coming in and more hospital bills coming in each week, it seemed like the best option. Although I was reluctant about asking for help, it was incredible to see how friends and family rallied around us and supported us financially. I’m still blown away by their generosity!
I’m not convinced GoFundMe and all their fees are still the way to go, but there are different online fundraising options now and LOTS of other ways to organize fundraisers to help your loved one battling cancer.
Here are a few ideas:
- Organize a 5K charity run
- Create & sell T-shirts
- Make & sell hand-made crafts
- Coordinate with a local pizza place/restaurant/business to donate a certain percentage of their sales on a given night or for a certain period of time
- Donate a certain percentage of the profits from your online or network marketing business
A quick note on that last idea: one of the ways Erik and I want to help my brother, sister-in-law, and their family is to send them 10% of what I make from each resume and career coaching project. So, if you’d like to help this family AND could use a new resume or some guidance for your next career move, I’d love to help you and them at the same time!
Buy Them New Clothing
In the few months before I was diagnosed, I had been unable to eat solid foods without ending up in the hospital (hence all the hospital bills) and lost nearly 30 pounds. None of my clothes fit right, and most of my pants were just plain falling off.
Then, post-treatment, I put back on 50 pounds. Once again, nothing fit. 🙄
If your loved one is struggling with fluctuating weight loss/gain associated with treatment, one significant way to help them is either by gifting them clothes in their current size or taking them shopping when they feel up to it. Gift subscriptions to personal shopping/style boxes would be a good idea, too, for those who are long-distance!
While we’re talking about clothing, particularly if the loved one battling cancer is the mom of a young family, it is very likely they need help keeping their growing kids clothed, as well! Offer to take the kiddos shopping for school clothes to give mom a break or send a gift card for one of their favorite stores if you’re long distance.
Help Them Find Productive Work
This tip isn’t for EVERY cancer patient, but particularly if your loved one is a Choleric Personality type, this suggestion may be SUPER helpful for them!
Powerful Choleric types THRIVE on being productive. Their self-worth tends to center around what they DO, and when they can’t DO as much as they used to be able to do, it can be INCREDIBLY frustrating! Cholerics NEED to keep their hands and minds busy. Especially if your loved one is a blend of Melancholy and Choleric, they can fall into deep depression when their perceived “usefulness” is stripped from them.
Not sure what Choleric or Melancholy mean? Check out this post!
Maybe he is unable to work while undergoing treatment and is feeling trapped and purposeless at home. Maybe she’s a SAHM but can’t keep up with the housework and running the kids around anymore because her stamina has tanked. In either of those situations, a Choleric is likely to flounder as a huge part of her identity (the “doer”) is put on hold.
As a Melancholy-Choleric, I’ve gone through this one first hand. Shortly after I was diagnosed, I volunteered to sort 2 years’ worth of worship chord sheets just to have something productive to do and to keep my mind OFF what was going on.
Then, I started resume writing during treatment to keep my brain busy, have the flexibility to not work when I needed to recover from treatment, and still help with finances a bit.
Just before my last treatment, I started Scattered Woman as a way of moving forward and re-establishing my purpose and identity as a productive member of society.
If your loved one is a Choleric and is struggling in this area, here are a couple of ideas:
- If you run a business or need help with something they can do from bed or the couch, see if they would be up for helping. (All the better if you’re able to pay them!)
- Encourage them to pursue freelance work they can do when they feel up to it, especially if you know they are talented in areas such as writing, marketing, graphic design, photography, or another easily-freelanced field.
One quick caveat here: make sure your loved one WANTS to work — not everyone will or should! Help them decide if being productive would be helpful for their mental health, and if yes, help them brainstorm flexible work options that would feel productive for them.
You can also refer to this post to help them decide if working from home is a good idea for them!
Feed Their Hobby
While not all Personality types NEED to work like Cholerics do, most other types DO benefit from having something they can do to keep their minds off the stress and unknowns of battling cancer. They might not feel Iike actively doing much, but having some enjoyable, hobby-like options on hand for when they do feel up to it is always a good idea.
Depending on what kinds of hobbies your loved one enjoys, you might consider giving them…
- Adult coloring books & colored pencils
- Handcraft supplies (quilting, sewing, needlework, scrapbooking)
- Gift cards for subscription services like Hulu, Netflix, PureFlix, Hallmark Movies, etc.
Cover Their Kids’ School Supplies
We’re just getting back into the school routine around here, but if your loved one has school-aged kids who need supplies and Mom or Dad can’t get out to shop with/for them, step in & take the kiddos shopping for school supplies! If you’re long distance, you could even put together a small tub of basic school supplies and send it to them.
If you’re local and your loved one’s kiddos need help during the school year, offer to step in for help with homework, tutoring, or chauffeuring to and from activities.
Stock Them Up on Detox Supplies
One of the things I recommend to every cancer patient is to look into detox strategies to use during treatment to support their body in processing out the drugs as quickly as possible. You can read more on all the detox strategies I used during treatment in this post, but here is a quick list of basic detox supplies that would be great to stock up on and send to your loved one!
- Essential Oils (especially Clove, Melaleuca, Frankincense, and Lavender)
- Coconut Oil
- Bentonite Clay
- Baking Soda
- Dry Brush
- Foot Bath
- Activated Charcoal Soap
Gift Them Immune Boosters & Protectors
Cancer occurring in the body at all means there is some sort of break down in the immune system and undergoing toxic treatments like chemo and radiation (however necessary at times) only serve to further destroy the body’s natural defenses.
To support your loved one in the battle to strengthen the little immune system they have left during treatment, consider gifts such as:
- Non-toxic Hand Soaps
- Natural, Deeply Nourishing Body Soaps (like a rich goat milk soap)
- Homemade Hand Sanitizer (I make one similar to this recipe but with OnGuard)
- Homemade Elderberry Syrup
- Vitamin C Powder (essential for boosting the immune system with High-Dose Vitamin C protocols – provided it isn’t contraindicated with their treatment plan)
General Helping Tips
Some ways of helping your loved one battling cancer don’t fit into organized lists of suggestions but are just as important to keep in mind:
Keep Schedules as Normal as Possible
Leah mentioned, “our friends are letting us be as normal as we can, which has helped us tremendously.” Still being included in events and celebrations – even if they can’t attend – will help your loved one remember they are still wanted and belong. Sometimes our stressful situations can make us feel as if we don’t belong anymore or that we’re an inconvenience to those around us. Keeping life as normal as possible can help!
On the same theme, be sure to visit and socialize with your loved one when they’re feeling up to company. Battling cancer can be a lonely situation, and those in the fight may need extra social support to let them process what’s going on and help them feel normal – especially for the more extroverted, people-oriented Personality types like Popular Sanguines. (Other Personality types need social time, as well – just not typically as much as our Sanguines. 😜)
DON’T Share Germs!
Please, PLEASE, do NOT visit your loved one battling cancer if you or someone in your family is the LEAST bit sick! We’ve already talked about the lack of immune function problem chemo patients face. Let’s not add fuel to the fire by sharing your germs with them.
This one is a good tip in general, regardless of who you are planning to see: STAY HOME if you think you may have a cold or any other illness. You never know who at church or in Target or Panera is immunocompromised or immune-deficient. They’re doing the best they can to protect themselves, but PLEASE do your part & KEEP THE GERMS AT HOME!! (And take care of yourself with the Bug Buster Protocol & your Home Health Arsenal!)
Don’t Stop Helping When Treatment Ends!
It takes months or years to fully recover from conventional cancer treatments. While I was only in active chemo treatments for six months, I am STILL recovering and trying to regain my full strength and stamina over 1.5 years later! Our immune systems and energy take time to rebuild – much more time than I anticipated. 😕
Let your loved one guide you as to when they’re ready to resume household responsibilities like cleaning, cooking, or yard work. Talk with them about how they’re feeling a month or so post-treatment and what the timeline would look like for transitioning back into their responsibilities.
Remember, most of the world celebrates the end of treatment, thinking the war is won. But, for the cancer survivor, the battle is only just beginning.
Listen to Your Loved One!
If you know someone entering the battle, offer to help in one of the suggested ways above. See how they respond. Most likely, they’ll be relieved and grateful. ❤️
If they seem offended or disheartened, talk with them about it! Maybe they feel depressed that they WON’T be able to do the yard work and are struggling with not being able to DO as much as they’re used to doing. That’s okay! Wait a while and check back in. Or offer to do something else. Let them know you want to do whatever would be most helpful for them.
Each patient is different and needs different things as they process and work to heal. Let this list be your guide, but ultimately, listen to your loved one!
And Sometimes, Just Do It!
If you know your loved one REALLY well and KNOW where they’re going to need help, JUST DO IT! Don’t wait to okay the idea with them – just go ahead and do it for them!
Leah recently mentioned how some of her neighbors and church family have jumped into action to help them:
“The most helpful things have been our neighbors mowing our grass every week without talking to us first, they just do it. A group of people are making meals from anti-inflammatory diet recipes and collecting them at church. Someone leaves them in a cooler on our porch once a week without talking to us.”
That whole “without having to talk to us” piece is AMAZING. When we’re in the thick of the battle, the LAST thing we want to do is forever answer questions about our diagnosis, treatment plan, how we’re feeling, or what we need. For most of us, we’re overwhelmed, scared/angry, doing the best we can, not feeling great, and have absolutely no energy to come up with a list of ideas on how others can help.
We WANT help. We NEED help. But we’re in the middle of the battle, and we have no energy to guide the process for those on the outside looking in. It’s just too much.
So, please take these suggestions and run with them. Your loved one battling cancer needs you!
What other suggestions do you have for those wanting to help a loved one battling cancer?
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As a former University Resident Director, Career Counselor, Certified Personality Trainer, and high school Spanish teacher, Laura has quite the “scattered” background — with one underlying theme: education! She writes to teach and inspire women on topics related to faith, family, and lifework. She is also a resume writer, specializing in resumes for moms, career changers, and new graduates.