Almost everyone knows someone who’s had cancer. But you might not be aware of everything they’re going through. To show someone you care, it helps to know what their day-to-day life is like, including things they may not tell you. If you take your cues from your loved one, you’ll be ready to help them during what can be a very hard time.

Offer the right kind of help

“Let me know if I can do anything.” It sounds kind, but it puts the burden on your loved one to ask you. It’s better to make a concrete suggestion, such as, “Can I bring you dinner on Tuesday?” or “Want me to come to your next doctor visit? Call when you’re on the way to the grocery store and ask if you can pick up any items on their list. When someone has a serious illness like cancer, they might not want to ask for help but would love it if you stepped up without being asked.

Don’t compare

If your aunt, co-worker, or neighbor had the same type of cancer as your loved one, try not to bring it up. Cancer is complicated, and although there may be some similarities, no two people have the same emotional and physical experiences. Listen to what theirs is, and they’ll appreciate that.

Stay in the picture

You might find the thought of cancer overwhelming, and that’s OK. Your loved one probably does, too. If you don’t know what to say, that’s also OK — they might not, either. A simple “I’m thinking of you” goes a long way, even if you don’t know what else to do. Send a card or an email. Talk about a book you read, a movie you saw, or a lunch you had with a mutual friend.

You can talk about your life

If you feel hesitant to talk about your life or send pictures of fun activities, relax. Your loved one would probably love to connect and hear about what’s going on with you. They still want a real relationship. When they hear your news and see what you’ve been up to, it gives them a break from thinking about their own situation.

Try to be there

If you’re in the area, it’s nice to offer to go to a doctor’s appointment or treatment. This is especially true for someone who doesn’t have family nearby. Chemotherapy infusions take hours, and often people aren’t supposed to drive home afterward. You can offer to help with transportation, visit during the infusion, or both.

Call first

Just like with anyone else, check in before you visit. Your friend might be getting ready for a nap, or they might have a low white blood cell count and must avoid being around others. Or they may have appointments and isn’t available. Make sure they know you’re coming and is up for it.

Take visits one at a time

Both during and after treatment, your loved one’s physical and mental energy levels can change, even by the hour. Nausea levels can change by the minute. If you have an awkward visit with your friend who doesn’t feel well at the time or who must cancel a visit, reach out again. If you have a great visit, know that it might be different next time but still means a lot.

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