Your friend or family member just received a cancer diagnosis — here’s how to respectfully support them (4 tips)

Posted by Kathleen Brown on

A cancer diagnosis rocks the world of the patient and those close to them. In this most vulnerable time, everyone wants to help. But how? 

When someone is just diagnosed, try not to overwhelm them — they’re likely still processing everything (like you but x100). Hearing the words “you have cancer” can feel like a loss of life to many, and oftentimes support comes in so fast and furious that it compounds the shock of diagnosis itself. Since we know navigating a new cancer diagnosis isn’t intuitive for most people, we’ve got you.


1. Respect boundaries

Your bud just got their diagnosis. They are overwhelmed, unsure of the future, and wondering what their family’s day-to-day will look like in this season. This is not the time to overstep boundaries, even if the person hasn’t directly communicated any. Consider their privacy and wellbeing before reaching out. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Understand if you fall into the category of close friends and family. Just because they’re your Facebook friend doesn’t mean you are “close.” If you don’t already communicate with this person directly on a regular basis, now is not the time to start. 
  • Choose a point person for your friend group/family: Too many texts and calls can be overwhelming when you’re still processing difficult news. One way to consolidate support is by designating a point person to coordinate well wishes and receive updates. The point person should tell the patient who they’re keeping who is in the loop. Remember this is medical information. It’s not your news to share without consent.

  • Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond. Your bud is likely receiving a lot of contact and may not have the desire or energy to answer beyond a “heart” reaction or any response at all.  

“Everyone wants to do something but the reality is that we didn’t know what we needed, communication sucked the life out of us, and having to explain anything during those first few weeks felt impossible,” writes Danielle Moss, a caregiver and lifestyle blogger. “Now that I’ve been through it, I know what words are healing and what feels painful or triggering, and my intention here is to help others.” 

Remember that it’s not about you. The vulnerable human on the other end is likely struggling with not knowing what they even need at this time. They’re going through a lot of emotional changes. Don’t be that person. 

2. Send a card or gift

The first five pages of Google or Amazon results for “gifts for cancer” are picked by an algorithm. We’re here to curate intentional and empowering gestures for you to show support. This stage of the cancer diagnosis needs all the TLC it can get (without the intrusiveness). Don’t overthink, just do--your bud will appreciate you sending something than nothing at all. 

Play into their personality. We’re big fans of the Better and Co. cards that have humorous sayings like, “I hear your colon is being shitty” or “Cancer just messed with the wrong cervix.” Sense of humor required.

Let them pick. We know it can be difficult to choose something they’ll actually appreciate and need. They don’t know yet, either. That’s why we made a way for our buds to shop with financial support from loved ones directly in our buddhi community. Add funds to their wellness wallet, which they can use to purchase products and services from a socially-responsible marketplace we’ve curated just for cancer thrivers. Booooya. 

✨ This feature will be rolling out to the buddhi platform soon! In the meantime, we have gifts curated in our buddhi shop. 

Avoid saying, “Get well soon.” Language around a speedy recovery is typically not helpful for cancer patients who may be in treatment way past “soon.” You know what else isn’t helpful? Making it about you or someone you know who had that same cancer. 

What you can say instead: “I hate this for you.” “This is really shitty.” “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It sucks.” Because guess what? It totally sucks. Empathy goes a long way, and a lot further than a half-assed cliché. 

3. Communicate your availability

Asking for help is hard, even when you need it most. Cancer patients are no different. Chances are they don’t even know what they need, especially early on.

Make yourself available to them and communicate how you will. Danielle Moss experienced this when a friend offered to watch her eldest daughter while they went to an intense appointment. She was overwhelmed with gratitude and didn’t realize how much she was holding back from asking for help. 

Communicating is as simple as saying, “Hey bud, I have my Friday afternoons free this month. I’m happy to let your dog out/watch your kid/pickup groceries for you if you have an appointment or need ‘me’ time.” You got this. Calendar reminders are your friend.

4. Provide and encourage community

There are few things more isolating than cancer treatment, especially during a pandemic. (Haven’t we social-distanced enough?) TL;DR: Your bud needs connection with people beyond the hospital staff. 

Online communities are where it’s at. You can connect with them without being pushy. Share an invite for buddhi, where they can connect with peers living with and recovering from cancer. Our platform features exciting ways to connect with other people who have been there and share updates with loved ones, including:

  • Community forum: A judgment-free zone where cancer thrivers, from fresh diagnosis to decades in recovery, can go through the trenches together.
  • Expert-led virtual events: Provides additional support for mind-body healing in a fun and educational way.
  • Content library: Members can access full guides, articles and videos to feel encouraged and educated in this season. 
  • GIPHY-powered social tool: Allows our buds to *really* express themselves to find help that heals. Ain’t nobody got time (or energy) for extensive journal posts throughout the day.
  • Follow their journey: When your buds share updates with their supporting followers, it helps you learn how to support their healing journey. 

✨ This feature will be rolling out to the buddhi platform soon! 

We know you care (you’re reading this now, aren’t you?). Your bud is going through a lot. We know you are processing, too. Manage your expectations throughout the cancer journey as your relationship may change. If it does, that’s okay. Being available, supportive, and respectful is the best thing you can do.

Share these tips with your bud’s support network so they don't have to. We have lots more resources for all of your in our community -- Join Today!