Being there during diagnosis, treatment and after treatment

When someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a very difficult time for you too. You probably want to be there to support them, but you might not know what to do.

You may want to talk to them about how they are feeling. There are also practical things you can do to help them cope, whether you’re a partner, relative, friend or carer.

If the person has a number of hospital appointments, you could suggest giving them a lift. Or help them plan for the appointments by writing a list of questions down that they can take along with them.

They may need to stay in hospital for a while to have treatment, so you could offer to visit them. Perhaps think about taking them something to pass the time, for example a magazine or an audiobook.

When their main treatment is finished, it will take them time to recover so they will still need support. You could offer to help with things like shopping and cooking.

How you can help during diagnosis

When someone close to you finds out they have cancer, you probably want to be there for them but you might not know how you can help. There are practical things you can do to support them – whether you’re their partner, relative, friend or carer.

You might also find it helpful to read our information to help you talk to someone who has cancer.

Be there

  • Visit them – especially if they live on their own or you’re worried they’re feeling isolated.
  • Make them a cup of tea and just listen.
  • Watch TV or a DVD together to take their mind off things.
  • If you can’t be there in person, just call or write to them to say you’re thinking of them.
  • If they’re not already in contact with Macmillan, suggest that they contact us to find out how we can support them.

Be there for hospital appointments

  • Help plan for appointments – what questions do they have and what do they want to say? Write it down for them to take along on the day.
  • Offer to go with them for support and to talk things through.
  • Give them a lift – especially if they’re having a test or scan.
  • During the appointment, write the important things down.

Be there between appointments

  • They might find it helps to organise the information they’ve been given and to keep track of things like their symptoms and mood. You could order your friend or relative a free Macmillan Organiser from The organiser is also available as an app.
  • Having more information helps some people feel more in control. We have more information to help you understand cancer and its treatments. But remember that some people don’t want to know all the details and prefer to leave everything to their doctors.

How you can help during treatment

If they’re in hospital

  • If you want to visit, check they’re feeling up to it first and don’t visit if you’re not feeling well.
  • It may be a shock to see them looking unwell. Try to keep your attention on them, not on any medical equipment.
  • Make sure you go during visiting hours, and don’t stay too long if they’re tired.
  • Take them a book or magazine, or check whether the hospital allows flowers.
  • Take them an audiobook or some music to listen to.
  • Update them on what’s happening with other family members, friends or colleagues.
  • Find out whether anything needs doing at home that you could help out with.

If they’re at home during or following treatment

  • Offer to visit while their main carer is resting – this will give them a break.
  • Ask a close member of the family whether there’s anything you can do to help.
  • Offer to help out with everyday activities, for example doing some laundry, picking the kids up from school, taking care of any pets, weeding the garden or taking out the rubbish.
  • If you offer to do the food shopping or cook a meal, check which foods are best first.
  • If they feel up to it, suggest doing some gentle exercise together, like going for a short walk.
  • Don’t visit if you’re not feeling well, and take your cue from them about how often to visit – they’ll need time to rest.
  • If they have to go to hospital for treatment, offer to give them a lift and sit with them during treatment.

How you can help after treatment

  • Now the main treatment is over they might want to start focusing more on their relationships with family and friends, so suggest visiting or meeting up.
  • Remember it will take time for them to recover, so keep up the support – ask them how they are and what you can do to help.
  • Offer to help with things like gardening, shopping or housework.
  • Offer to cook them a healthy meal.
  • Take them some CDs or DVDs.
  • Being more active might help them feel better, so offer to do something gentle like going for a walk together.
  • They may get very nervous about check-ups, so offer to go with them for support.
  • If you can’t be there in person, then call or text them or write them a letter or email. And let them know there’s no rush to reply.