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Supporting Others Who Are Dealing With Cancer

Every person handles a cancer diagnosis differently. The most important thing is that you say or do something. Here are three suggestions you may find helpful based on my experience.
PUBLISHED March 14, 2019
Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at

I will never forget the day I realized cancer was becoming part of my life. There are no words to describe with clarity how I felt in that moment. I saw pictures online that made a pit in my stomach as big as the Grand Canyon. I read statistics and tried hard not to faint in fear. At the end of the day, all I could do was sit with the knowledge that life as I knew it was changing. We told family and a select group of friends. As word got out the phone started to ring.

I had some difficulty during those days. This was in great part because the things people said, while well meaning, were hard for me to hear. I am sure I have said most everything I heard to someone else before. Yet being on the receiving end of those comments made me rethink things.

Here are three tips I would offer as a result of my experience.

1. Say something but be mindful of what you say. Many of us could fill pages of things said to us that didn't come out right. Sometimes less is more and listening speaks volumes. Notes and cards are wonderful ways to communicate. I loved getting ones that made me laugh or smile. I did not love it when people asked me tons of questions. I didn't love it when I faced resistance when trying to change the subject from my health to other things in life.

2. Don't speak out of your need, focus on the person you are talking to. Try to follow their lead. Many times, I found people saying what they needed to hear. Which by the way, never made me feel better. Visiting a sick friend is never a good time to dive into figuring out your own personal issues. It is also never a good time to lament your own personal cancer losses.

3. Ask, don't assume anything. I appreciated people asking me what I needed or wanted instead of assuming they knew what I needed. One of my friends asked how she could help me. I told her I needed help communicating with people. She researched and set up a page on a website for us to post updates. That was really helpful. Another friend called to say they were at the local wholesale club, what could I use? They left a small mountain of toilet tissue on our porch that night. We needed that way more than I needed another pink ribbon pin.

Every person handles things differently. How you choose to communicate should be based on your heart for and relationship with the person. The most important thing is that you say or do something. People adjusting to cancer need space, but they also need to know they are loved and cared for. If you are a survivor, please comment one thing that someone said or did that affected you positively.

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