Supporting a Family Member - Lets Fuck Cancer


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A caregiver’s guide to

Supporting a Family Member

Near, far, wherever you are – supporting someone you love while they go through cancer can be challenging. We’ve got your back, so you can have theirs.

Things to Keep in Mind

When it comes to supporting your family member, you know them best. Every family is unique, so do what feels right for your relationship.

Keep it simple

The little things are often the most meaningful. Just calling your family member or watching a movie with them can mean the world when they’re going through it.

Prepare yourself

Try to process your own feelings before talking to your family member with cancer. They’re going through enough already, they don’t need to take on the burden of processing your feelings too. Learn more here.

They’re not just a cancer patient

Your loved one is still the same person they’ve always been. Don’t forget to talk to them about all the interests and passions you share, in addition to talking to them about cancer if they want to.

Learn about their cancer

You don’t need to be an expert, but doing a little background research on their cancer allows you to spend your time talking about other things and not just having them regurgitate facts. But remember that every experience is unique.

Consider their perspective

While you should never assume you know what they’re going through, consider what your family member might be feeling and things you can do to help. This will make you more empathetic when you talk to them.

Support the primary caregiver, too

Both people with cancer and their caregivers need a strong support system around them when dealing with cancer. Make sure their caregiver feels supported, too.

Stick around

Cancer doesn’t end when treatment is over. If your family member is open to it, continue to offer support as time goes on.

What to Say

When a loved one is first diagnosed with cancer, it can feel scary and overwhelming for the people around them. You may draw blanks when you try to think of how to talk to them about their cancer, but just remember that your family member is still the same person they’ve always been. Talk to them like you normally would, be honest, and if you’re not sure, ask them. Sometimes saying you don’t know what to say is the best thing you can say. If you’re stuck, here are a few places to start.

“I’m sorry this is happening.”
“I love you and am here for you.”
“Whenever you want to talk, I’m here.”
“How can I help today? What about next week?”
“It’s good to see you.”
“Fuck Cancer!”

Starting a conversation is the hardest part. Feel free to communicate in person, over the phone, via text, or video call. Check in with your loved one to see what they prefer and if they’re up for a visit. It’s also nice to remind them that they don’t have to reply if they’re not feeling up to it, emotionally or physically.

How to Help

Keep these tips in mind to help guide your family’s relationship through this process.

Check in

Whether you have a standing date or just reach out whenever you’re thinking of them, check in on your family member consistently so they know they can rely on you.

Be flexible

Make plans that can easily be changed and try to remain understanding if your family member needs to adjust your plans. Living with cancer means dealing with unexpected health changes and emotions.

Leave space

Let them know that it’s okay if they need to lay low or not reply sometimes. You’ll be here when they’re ready.

Take cues

Follow their lead about discussing certain topics or their energy for certain activities.

Respect their decisions

Your family member’s health is their own. Don’t try to pressure them into any decisions related to their cancer or treatment options, and only give your opinion if it’s asked for.

Ask permission

Make sure it’s okay for you to see them in person, give advice, or ask questions about their cancer before doing so. They may not always be up for these things.

Have fun

Don’t forget to laugh and have fun with them like usual. When you’ve lost your sense of humor, you’ve lost it all.

Acknowledge sadness

It’s easy to want to avoid sadness or talking about heavy topics, but it’s important not to ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings. Don’t bottle things up.

Offer to help

Ask your family member (or their primary caregiver) how you can help. If they can’t think of specific needs they have, offer some ideas.

Follow through

If you tell your family member you’ll do something, do it. Now is not the time to be flaky.

Talk about other things

You don’t always have to talk about the cancer elephant in the room.

Ideas to Support

People with cancer and their primary caregivers need a support system around them. Sometimes, they’ll have a list of items they need help with. Often, though, cancer is so overwhelming that it’s hard to even know what they need. Here are some ideas that you can offer to help out.

Run errands

Go grocery shopping or pick up prescriptions.

Household chores

Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and gardening.

Help with meals

Cook a meal, pick up takeout and drop it off, or send a gift card (make sure to ask about dietary restrictions).

Child care

Babysit, take them to and from school and activities, or arrange playdates.

Pet care

Walk, feed, bathe, or play with the pets.

Hang out

Watch a movie, play a game, go for a walk, or talk all night.

Go to appointments

Drive them, take notes, and hang out during appointments.

Medical or insurance assistance

Make medical or insurance calls and find resources.

Coordinate help

Meal trains, phone chains, scheduling, or fundraisers.

Gift Ideas

If your love language is gift giving, here are a few ideas that your family member might like and use while they’re going through cancer.

Gift certificate

Food delivery, cleaning service, task rabbit, grocery store, or a massage

Things to read

Magazines, books, or audiobooks


Your favorite memories or their favorite people and places


Crossword, sudoku, or puzzles


Coloring books, needlepoint kits, or other creative outlets


Note cards or a journal

Something sentimental

A video message or scrapbook

Curated playlist

Music, TV shows, or movies they would like



Something cozy or something to make them feel normal again

Young Adults Caring for Their Parent With Cancer

If your parent is diagnosed with cancer when you are a teenager or young adult, it can feel like the ground has fallen out from under you. So many things change overnight. It’s normal to feel…


It’s incredibly scary when your parent is diagnosed with cancer.


You may feel frustrated that some of your freedom and independence has been taken from you.


Your life right now probably looks very different than your peers, which can feel isolating.


The normal parent/child dynamic you’ve had up until now has suddenly been flipped on its head.


You may feel concerned about how to care for your parent or how to help with limited resources at this point in your life.


While caregiving is incredibly hard, it is also very rewarding and you may feel proud of yourself for how you’re able to support your parent during this time.

Any emotion you’re feeling is warranted, normal, and okay. Remember – feelings are good, they mean you’re alive. If you want some assistance in coping with your experience, try one of these options.

Talk about it

Okay this feels obvious. But, talking about your feelings can help ease the burden of them. Talking to your parent(s) and sibling(s) about how you’re feeling can also help you feel less alone and help you all manage expectations during this time.

Understand your parent’s wishes

It’s important to talk to your parent about their wishes when it comes to their treatment options and any financial planning.

Have the information

Make sure you have all necessary medical, legal, and insurance paperwork and other personal identifying information for your parent to make decisions on their behalf if you need to.

Set realistic expectations

Having open conversations with your parent about what they need from you as a caregiver, and what you’re capable of giving, will lead to a smoother overall experience as you both transition into these new roles of patient and caregiver.

Write it down

Journal about your feelings. If you want to share what you’re thinking but don’t want to say it out loud, consider writing a letter or email.

Build a support system

Sit down with your parent and map out their full support system, their contact information, and how they can help your family.

Find support

Consider joining a support group for young adults or finding a therapist.

Maintain normalcy

Try to maintain some sense of normalcy in your day-to-day life by staying in contact with your friends, making time for hobbies, and exercising to relieve stress.

If You Live Far Away

Even if you live far away from your family member, you are still part of their support system and can provide assistance.

Be prepared

If you’ve been asked to deal with any medical, financial, or legal needs for your family member, make sure you have all the information you need. You may need specific documents, such as advance directives, or personal information to coordinate services on your family member’s behalf.

Organize a support system

People with cancer need a whole team of support. Coordinate tasks with your family member’s other loved ones or get a free, personalized patient navigator.

Consider home care

If your family member doesn’t have a primary caregiver who is local to them, you may want to look into professional home care services. The health care team, social worker, or state or local health department can provide reliable referrals.

Anticipate unplanned travel

If your family member needs your help, you may need to travel to them unexpectedly. Save vacation or sick days at work, understand the best way to travel to your family, and budget appropriately.

Source: American Cancer Society; American Society of Clinical Oncology; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

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