How To Help A Friend With Cancer: Best Practices and Ideas

When my friend was diagnosed with cervical cancer years ago, it was the first time I had been in a position to try to serve someone with a critical diagnosis. Honestly, other than praying, I felt like a clueless and unhelpful bystander because of my anxiety. I wish someone had given me a list of pragmatic ways to serve. It wasn’t until my own mother-in-law had lung cancer that I began to understand from the inside how to be more useful.

Have you ever felt like this? You want to help but don’t know how? Let’s kill that feeling of “Bystander Helplessness.” I offer a pre-strategized list of ideas to help someone in need by crowd-sourcing best practices and tips. Feel free to see if I missed any great ideas (I’m sure I have!), list yours in the comments, and share the post with others.

While it goes without saying, please be wise with COVID exposure and other transmittable diseases. Wear masks, sanitize hands, and avoid unnecessary exposure, but don’t let that keep you from helping.

With a total of 1,806,590 new cancer cases expected in the U.S. in 2020, that’s about 4,950 new cases each day. Chances are, someone you know is going to have a diagnosis. I asked online for suggestions and here is what many had to offer who have gone through it with their friends or family members. I pray this is a blessing to you, not only for your friend who has cancer but for others who have heavy burdens to bear. (Galatians 6:2)


Meal trains using any of the popular scheduling apps (like SignUpGenius) is monumentally practical and incredibly helpful for families. They can detail allergies, picky eaters, time/details of delivery, and recipient’s address. Get creative and consider healthy foods (not just pasta) and consider packaging individual portions in containers you don’t need returned. Be sure not to overdo it in your culinary love… my mother-in-law ran out of space in her freezer and fridge with everything people brought!

You can also put together a visit and a prayer schedule using these apps if your friend is comfortable with guests. Be sure to ask.

For this reason, gift cards for gas, restaurants, or groceries allow your friend or family member options. Thanks to online platforms like DoorDash, GrubHub, Prime delivery, and others, restaurant/store-to-door delivery is a convenient reality.

I loved what my friend Pattie suggested: “Cut up veggies and fruits (strawberries) to so they do not have to expend the energy. Call to see if you can visit. While you are there, do the dishes, start some laundry, fold, put it away. Notice what needs to be done and do it for them. If you ask, chances are they will be too overwhelmed to ask for help.”

So true. I want someone like pragmatic Pattie on my team, don’t you?

Helpful for Treatment Plans and Chemo

Cancer Journals can be something as simple as a spiral notebook or as detailed as this one I found on Amazon, are helpful for keeping track of treatments, doctors’ comments and plans, blood levels of important markers (like white blood cell counts and other blood indicators) and the many details needed for successful management of any disease. Written journals allow different caregivers to document what is covered in each appointment and puts information literally in the hands of the patient and their family.

As someone who has walked through cancer with her spouse, Michelle had a great idea. “I always include a scripture journal that I already started for them that includes the scriptures I used during our cancer battle. I then put a little note in there reminding them that some days you will forget the truth and that is when you need to just read the Truth. Then (they can) start adding to the journal book scriptures you find that are helping you and giving you strength.” 

Essential oils (for nausea or healing), warm blankets or teddy bear fleece jackets (chemo can be bone-chilling), handheld fans, and appropriate inspiring podcast ideas are great for chemo downtime. Your favorite binge-worthy Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu/YouTube TV series suggestions, audiobooks, and music suggestions can help pass the time for both your friend and the person waiting to drive her home. My postman, Randy, suggested asking if your friend has developed an Amazon wishlist of things they would like throughout treatment.

Sometimes flowers are just the ticket. My mother-in-law was delighted to have a fresh bouquet of flowers on her dining room buffet throughout her first go-round with cancer. They just made her happy. For others, a beautiful card or hand-written note means the world.

What does your friend most love and need from you for support? Do THAT.

No/Low Co$t Options

Helping doesn’t always have to cost money, just time and talent. Offer to drive your friend or family member to appointments. (You can even offer to scribe the appointment into the cancer journal if you’re a good notetaker!)

Watch kids or take them out for something fun and normal. Parks are free and help burn off steam especially for little ones. Taking kids to practices or school can be a huge help as well.

Do laundry, shopping, or housekeeping. If they have online ordering, you can even pick up groceries from stores like Walmart and bring groceries directly to her home even while you’re picking up your own. (If she’s okay with letting you, you can even put them away for her!)

Send Scripture texts, prayer cards of encouragement, or leave a friendly voicemail of you praying for your friend for the day. Sara said this: “Pray with them, let them know you’re thinking of them. We give out a book of prayers, even cute hats eventually. Sometimes it’s just knowing you support them.”

Final Thoughts

One thing I heard most was to JUST SHOW UP and keep doing it. Even something as simple as sitting in a room (or on a Zoom) and not speaking, be present, and take your cues from her.

  1. Serve without expectations.
  2. Serve from the heart in the Spirit.
  3. Cancer is usually a marathon and not a sprint. Be in it for the long haul.
  4. Put reminders in your calendar to touch base regularly.
  5. Keep showing up and be the Church.

What are ways you’ve shown up to serve your friends? Comment below.