Knowing how to help a friend or family member after a cancer diagnosis can be challenging, especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself. You have a strong desire to help. But how do you show them you care in a way that is respectful and non-intrusive during this difficult season?

We recently interviewed CaringWays founders Kristi Morrow & Ronn Hollis, both of whom have their own experiences navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment. We wanted to get their thoughts on what life was like after a diagnosis, what helped the most, and what advice they would give to others wanting to help a friend or family member during treatment. 

5 Ways to Help a Friend or Family Member After a Cancer Diagnosis

Here are five ways to help a friend or family member that Kristi and Ronn highlighted from their own experiences: 

1. Recognize and be respectful of the “whirlwind” that often comes with a diagnosis. 

Navigating a cancer diagnosis is a whirlwind. Patients often have to reckon with the initial shock of their diagnosis and the immediate work that needs to be done. After the initial diagnosis, there’s often a period of waiting while the doctors and medical teams work to create the most effective plan for treatment. Navigating this “hurry up and wait” experience can be incredibly difficult. 

“Whenever you receive a diagnosis, it can feel like this urgent wildfire that needs to be addressed immediately,” explains Kristi Morrow. “You want answers, and you want them now. The not-knowing can be the hardest part.”

It’s important to recognize the experience your friend or family member is going through and to be respectful as they navigate the initial days after diagnosis. They might not have answers to your questions or be able to fully articulate the prognosis. Let them know you care with your presence and kindness. Not asking too many questions is a valuable way to walk alongside them during the journey. 

2. Normalize asking for and receiving support. 

Many times people don’t want to ask for help because they don’t want to be a burden on others or believe they don’t need help. One of the best ways to help a friend or family member after a cancer diagnosis is to help remove any stigma around asking for support. Seek out someone who’s experienced a similar diagnosis for ideas on how you can provide concrete help for your loved one. Understanding and empathy is the first step to becoming a CareChampion

“Anyone who was just diagnosed with cancer that says, ‘I’ve got this…’ doesn’t really have it,” says Ronn Hollis. “I would want every cancer patient to know it’s OK (and even necessary) to ask for help no matter how many resources you have at your disposal. You are going through something you’ve never experienced before. Finding other people you can rely on is critical for finding the strength to make it through the journey.”

3. Provide high-utility support that gives them the ability to choose.

After a cancer diagnosis, patients recognize they’re not in control of how cancer impacts their health. In many cases, their normal routines are disrupted. They might have to stop working, adjust their diets, or put off their favorite hobbies. 

“So many of the things in your life are taken out of your control after a diagnosis,” Kristi mentioned. “One of the most helpful ways to help during treatment is to provide the support that patients can have at their fingertips and decide how to use it when they need it. They aren’t forced to decide whether they’re going to pay medical bills or provide for their practical needs. They can choose what to feed their family for dinner rather than feeling forced to eat certain meals because someone made them.” 

Providing financial support that helps cover their everyday needs is one of the most beneficial ways to help a friend or family member after a cancer diagnosis. Financial support empowers individuals by allowing them to choose what would best meet their needs at that moment. 

4. Relieve the burden of having to think of ways for people to help. 

Whenever a patient receives a cancer diagnosis, they are often bombarded with requests for how people can help. Fielding these requests and trying to find an answer that will truly make them feel supported can be overwhelming. 

“Everyone wants to do something,” Kristi says. “But that request can become overwhelming to think of something. The last thing someone is thinking is, ‘What can I ask for someone to help me do?’”

That reality may change how you approach those you want to help. Asking a patient to provide you with guidance increases their burden rather than lessening it. Starting a CaringWays campaign allows friends and family to show they care in a meaningful way – without asking a patient to coordinate their own support.  

5. Be present throughout their treatment journey. 

Cancer can be a long journey, one that can take months or years of treatment. When you commit to walk alongside patients for an extended period of time, you’re acknowledging the fact that support doesn’t just come in the form of a single action.

“Your presence really matters,” Kristi says. “​​Just sitting with them, listening, laughing, and sharing stories is a great way to get the focus away from the illness.”

“The most meaningful experiences after my diagnosis were the people who showed up along the way to let me know they truly care,” Ronn shares.” Whether it was the friend who took me to lunch and shared sage advice, the church member who provided financial support, or the neighbor who helped me with the everyday responsibility of car maintenance — I’ll never forget those people or moments.” 

Show them You Care by Becoming a CareChampion

Because we’ve been in your shoes, CaringWays was built to help patients with these principles in mind. Unlike crowdfunding platforms, CaringWays offers a more focused, secure way to provide financial support and practical help for medical bills and other health-related expenses.

If you’re looking for a way to channel your desire and ability to make a tangible difference for your loved one after a cancer diagnosis, consider becoming a CareChampion. You can take the first step by setting up a CaringWays campaign for your loved one.

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