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5 ways to support a friend with cancer

A woman with cancer and her friend having a conversation

We know that it can be hard to know just what to do or say when a friend or loved one is diagnosed with cancer. You may wonder how you can reach out to them and show them you care. Everyone copes with cancer differently, but support from friends and family can provide comfort.

From our online publications, to our coast-to-coast cancer information helpline, to the trusted information on our website, we’re committed to providing knowledge and support not only to Canadians affected by cancer but to their family and friends as well.

Take a look below for some advice from our Listen First brochure to help you be there when your friendship is needed most.

Just listen

A woman with her hand on a friend’s shoulder

Being there for a friend means listening to and spending time with them. Even if they don’t want to talk, your company still matters.

You can try doing activities you both enjoy such as taking a walk, watching a movie or listening to music.

When your friend is ready to talk, give them your undivided attention. If you’re unsure of what to say, let them take the lead. There’s no need to offer advice unless you’re sure your friend has asked you for it.

Learn a bit about cancer first

A man typing on his laptop

Every person’s cancer journey is different. Your friend may not want to talk about their diagnosis, so be proactive and do some research. Learn about the different types of cancer on our website or talk to an information specialist through our toll-free helpline at 1-888-939-3333. You can even reach out to a mutual friend or caregiver to give you more information.

Be sensitive to how your friend is feeling

A woman with her hand on a friend’s shoulder

Be aware of your friend’s mood. Although visiting your friend can boost their spirits, they may change their mind about spending time together when you arrive. If this happens, don’t take it personally. Reassure them that it’s OK and arrange a visit for another date.

However, if your friend is up for it, plan some fun activities to enjoy together! Sometimes something as simple as making plans will give them something to look forward to. Don’t forget to relax and laugh – and don’t be afraid to have fun!

Offer specific help, even after others stop

A person vacuuming the carpet inside a house

A cancer diagnosis can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. By offering practical help, you can allow your friend to focus on their treatment and get some much-needed rest.

Here are some ways you can offer help:

  • Help around the house by cleaning up, doing laundry or walking the dog
  • Prepare meals that your friend and their family can easily freeze and reheat
  • Drive your friend to and from medical appointments
  • Pick up their prescription or go grocery shopping

Cancer treatment and recovery can take months or even longer, so do your best to support your friend throughout their cancer journey.

Understand that every diagnosis is unique

Three older women with their arms around each other

Everyone’s cancer experience is different, so try not to assume how your friend may be feeling. They may go through a roller coaster of emotions that can change every day or even every hour. You can’t predict how your friend will feel or know what they’re going through, so it’s important to respect their mood and how they choose to cope.


No matter how you support your friend, remember that they value any love and care you show them. Even though each person’s cancer journey is unique, everyone needs support – no matter what stage of the cancer journey they’re in. Often, the smallest gestures can make the biggest difference. By taking steps to support your friend, you will help them focus on their recovery so they can live life to the fullest.

Helping someone with cancer

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