How to Give Emotional Support to a Loved One with Cancer

How to be a Supportive Listener

woman and adult daughter talking seriously
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Giving emotional support to a loved one with cancer is not easy. You want to be there for your friend or family member, but at the same time, you are also hurting and feeling emotional. You fear that displaying your emotion will end up hurting them rather than helping. Keep in mind that your strength will make them even stronger. Just how do you give support and how do you give it without breaking down?

Listen With You Heart, and Not Your Ears

When your loved one talks about their cancer, listen. Really listen. Sometimes, it is not what you say, it is what you do. Listening is one of the best ways to show you care. If your loved one wants to rant and rave about how unfair life is or whatever is on his or her mind, let it be. We need to have emotional outbursts every once in a while to vent our feelings. Knowing they have a shoulder to cry on is such a comfort.

If you are a problem-solver by nature, it will be a change to stop and just listen rather than brainstorming solutions. This isn't the time to be offering solutions, it's the time to listen. Even if your loved one is asking, "What can I do?" in the middle of other venting, hold back on the solutions until they are past the venting stage and in a true problem-solving mindset.

Don't Show Any Denial You May Be Feeling About the Cancer Diagnosis

It's normal to be in disbelief.

You've probably heard of other people who have been misdiagnosed and you are tempted to latch onto that hope. If your loved one has just been diagnosed, it is appropriate to suggest a second opinion, but only for the right reasons, not for false hope. Encouraging thoughts that their cancer may not be cancer might lead to them delaying treatment, which can have deadly consequences.

Don't dwell on denial or encourage false hope.

Limit How Often You Say "It's Going To Be Alright."

If you knew how many times a cancer patient hears that in one day, you wouldn't say it at all. When cancer patients hear phrases like that, one of the first things they ask themselves is, "What if it's not okay", or "How do you know?". Instead of trying to reassure that everything will be fine, reinforce that they will make it through cancer.

Normalcy Is Very Important

Talk about what is going on in your life, good or bad, to your friend or loved one with cancer. You may feel like your life is trivial compared to having cancer, but it's important to act as normal as you can. It helps draw their focus away from their disease and to be a part of everyday life like they were before the diagnosis. It is common for cancer patients to feel like invalids, even when they are fully functional. People begin treating them differently immediately upon hearing of their diagnosis. Maintaining normalcy is the key to coping.

The secret to being supportive is in these tips. There are also 4 L's to remember when caring for a loved one: Listening, Learning, Loving and most of all Laughter.

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