What to Do When a Loved One Is Diagnosed With Cancer

Emotions become extremely complicated when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer.

As someone who lost their dad to the disease a few years ago, the events leading up to a loved one's passing are filled with everything from depression and dread to even hope and moments of relief. While survival rates are steadily improving over the years, it can be an exhausting journey watching someone go through the fight, and it can lead to a lot of resentment, disappointment, and inevitably sadness.

However, there are many ways to educate yourself and be an emotional rock, while also protecting yourself and the relationship with your loved one. While this list is meant to aid in your journey, just know this is not a definitive rule book and that everyone handles this difficult disease differently. The key is to be kind and forgiving to yourself and validate your feelings as real and authentic. In the end, no one is an expert at navigating this grief. In honor of World Cancer Day, here are just a few things you can do to make the process easier

It's Okay to Be Angry.

This especially applies to a parent or a spouse. It's challenging when a loved one is first diagnosed, as their plan of action may not be the plan of action you want them to take. Just remember that cancer treatment is a grueling process, one that can literally suck the life out of someone. If your loved one wishes to go out valiantly, rather than fight a battle they may not win, then you need to respect that. A lot of peoples' initial reaction to diagnoses is to go out valiantly, rather than die feeble and gaunt in a hospital bed. It's okay to be angry at them for this, and it's okay to say that you disagree with their decision. But remember this isn't about you, and if the person in question doesn't change their mind after you express your disappointment, then you need to let it go and assure them it's okay. Find some other way to process that anger, so it doesn't eat away at you as your loved one's condition worsens.


You need to listen to your loved one. Don't lecture them, yell at them, or say anything other than loving, reaffirming words. Listen without judgment, and try not to "cheerlead" too much. Sit with your loved ones and let them share their feelings. Everyone else in their life is probably offering up a million solutions and giving an insane amount of unwarranted advice. Let them vent freely, and just listen.

Keep Things Normal.

As treatment progresses, or as the disease progresses, remember that your loved one is yearning for every shred of normalcy they can still have. Don't do too many things for them unless they ask. Let them cook their own dinner or continue working. It will lessen the feeling that cancer is taking over their lives. Also be sure to have plenty of conversations that are not about cancer.

Educate Yourself About Your Loved One's Cancer.

Read books, and be sure to have a good grasp on your loved one's disease and treatment. Cancer is a confusing and emotionally exhausting process, and it can be even more so when neither party really knows what's going on. CancerCare is a great website to learn about cancer. The website also lists a plethora of support groups, which can be a really great way to air out your frustrations and process your feelings.

Avoid Trigger Words

There are a few things that, while they may sound initially helpful and reassuring, are actually incredible traumatizing for a person fighting cancer. A few of them include:

"Everything is going to be fine" – This may initially sound helpful, but it can actually be dismissive of the real fear and sadness the person is experiencing. It also comes off that you are unwilling to talk frankly or realistically about the challenges of cancer and its treatment.

"You've got the good kind of cancer" – There is no good cancer. Next question.

"At least you're alive" – Living with cancer is grueling and difficult, and this can, once again, come off as dismissive of the struggle your loved one is undergoing.

Make Final Arrangements

If the cancer has progressed to the point that treatment is not a viable option, then it is incredibly important that you and your loved one get your affairs in order. Write a will. Talk about how they want to be remembered. The process is eerie, but take it from me, the last thing you want is for the person to die with nothing in place, especially if your loved one has siblings.

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