How to support loved ones with cancer

Dealing with the emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of cancer can be extremely difficult, and your support and love are crucial to the ongoing wellbeing of your loved one.

Stephné Jacobs, chairperson of Reach for Recovery, says the organisation’s volunteers, who have experienced the same journey, provide vital support to those affected by breast cancer. “Our focus is also on helping patients recover with an optimal quality of life. Everyone, regardless of their financial situation, deserves the same access to services, support and care,” says Jacobs.

Playing for Pink CEO Edith Venter explains that people who have not personally struggled with cancer, though well meaning, may not be able to comprehend fully what their loved one is going through. “It is important to equip ourselves with the right knowledge and skills to be able to support loved ones living with cancer effectively,” she says.

With this in mind, Playing for Pink has provided a few tips on how to support loved ones through this challenging, and often lonely, journey.

Listen actively and consciously

Listening is a skill that takes practice. People tend to want to give advice in an attempt to make things easier or fix the situation. But if you are in a support role it is better to listen, because this helps your loved one express their feelings and lets them know they have a safe space to voice their fears and concerns during this difficult time.

Active listening means repeating aspects of what the other person is saying and asking questions for clarification. This shows that you have heard the other person and understand what they have said.

Process your emotions

Receiving the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t only affect the patient, but also his or her loved ones. We are faced with our own set of emotions and fears of losing someone we love. It is important to process our own feelings in order to fully support our loved ones.

Practical (and timely) support

Practical support is just as important as emotional support. It may help to focus on tangible, everyday things you can do to make things a little easier for your loved one. Some people struggle with accepting practical support because they don’t want to inconvenience anyone and want to remain as independent as possible.

Simple ways of giving practical support can be offering lifts to doctor’s appointments, helping with housework, taking care of pets or cooking dinner. It is important, however, to respect your loved ones’ privacy. It is perfectly fine if your offers of assistance are declined – just make it clear that the offer stands whenever they feel they’d like to take you up on it.


In the face of the overwhelming stress, a bit of laughter can be highly therapeutic. Always be sensitive to your loved one’s emotions, as there is a time and place for everything. Be humorous and fun when it is appropriate and as needed. A light conversation or a funny story can make a friend’s day.

Make plans

Treatment can be a long and exhausting process, but making plans for the future gives your loved one something to look forward to. Remember to keep the plans flexible in case they need to be cancelled or rescheduled if necessary.

Talk about something else

Ask about interests, hobbies, family and other topics that are not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about their disease.

You can join the 2019 Playing for Pink Ladies Invitational Polo event on October 26 at Inanda Club, Johannesburg. The event coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is aimed at educating the public about breast cancer and raising money for Reach for Recovery and the Ditto Project.

Tickets are available from R1 000 per person. To secure a booking, contact Edith Venter Promotions on 011 783 5887.

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