Standing By Their Side: How to Help a Friend Going Through Chemo

Chemotherapy, while a life-saving treatment, can be an incredibly challenging journey. As friends and loved ones, it's natural to feel a deep desire to support and comfort. However, understanding the best ways to assist can sometimes be perplexing.

This guide offers some tangible suggestions on how to be there for a friend going through chemo.

1. Educate Yourself

Before anything else, take a moment to understand what chemotherapy entails. Knowing the potential side effects and challenges will better prepare you to offer specific and meaningful support.

Several organizations, like the American Cancer Society or Cancer Research UK, offer a wealth of information online. You can also consider joining local support groups or forums where loved ones of patients share their experiences and insights.

Be careful of misinformation. There are many myths surrounding chemotherapy, such as the belief that it's always unbearably painful or that one cannot lead a somewhat regular life while undergoing treatment. By educating yourself, you can be a beacon of accurate information, not only for your friend but for others in your circle.

2. Be a Listening Ear

Your friend might want to talk about their feelings, fears, or the treatment itself. Simply being there to listen, without judgment or unsolicited advice, can be therapeutic for them.

Conversely, they may not want to talk about chemo, opting for someone to distract them from their situation. Listening is about both what they're saying and what they may not be saying.

3. Offer Practical Assistance

The physical toll of chemo often makes daily tasks challenging. Here's where you can step in:

  • Run Errands: Shopping for groceries, picking up prescriptions, or even mailing packages can be of immense help.
  • Household Chores: Cleaning, laundry, or cooking can be exhausting for someone undergoing chemo. Offer to assist or even hire professional help if within your means.
  • Transportation: Offer rides to and from the hospital. Not only does this ease the logistical burden, but having a familiar face around during treatment can be comforting.

Whether or not someone going through chemo knows what they need, SupportNow allows supporters to lend a hand. Common categories of support include money, meals, childcare, and petcare. 

4. Create a Care Package

Consider putting together a basket with items that can help alleviate some of the side effects of chemo. This might include:

  • Soft, cozy blankets or socks
  • Unscented lotions (skin can become sensitive during chemo)
  • Ginger tea or candies (to combat nausea)
  • Audiobooks or puzzles to keep them engaged during long treatment sessions
  • A journal for recording thoughts and experiences

5. Respect Their Space

Remember that there will be days when your friend might want to be alone or may not feel up to socializing. Always check before visiting and understand if they prefer some quiet time.

Supporting people through tough times requires a level of resilience. Be willing to keep showing up and offering help, even when you hear "no" over and over.

6. Send Thoughtful Messages

A simple text saying, "Thinking of you" or "Sending you love and strength today" can lift their spirits. Avoid asking questions like, "How are you?" which can be difficult to answer during such times. As mentioned during an interview with Speechsister's Brooke Dwyer, she mentions the instinct to reply with how terrible things actually feel but admits no one would do that.

Instead, try to offer affirmations and positivity.

7. Organize a Support Group

With the patient's permission, consider creating a support group among friends and family. This can be a way to coordinate help, update others on the patient's status, and ensure that the patient receives consistent and organized support.

8. Celebrate Milestones

For most patients, every completed chemo session is a step closer to recovery. For others, every chemo treatment is an attempt to keep cancer at bay and extend their life. Acknowledge these milestones, whether it's with a small gift, a card, or just a congratulatory message.

While others may not be present in person, you could organize videos of support and congratulations for them to watch.

9. Take Care of Yourself

Supporting someone through chemo can be emotionally taxing. Ensure you're also looking after your mental and emotional well-being. This will enable you to be a more effective pillar of support.

Conclusion: The Power of Presence and Patience

Helping a friend through chemotherapy is about more than just the tangible acts of support. It's about showing up, being patient, and offering a steady hand through the ups and downs of the journey. Remember, your unwavering presence will make a world of difference.

  • Published: Oct 10, 2023
  • Last Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Learn More

Learn More

Learn how to help your loved ones during tough times.

Support Family, Friends, and Loved Ones

Create a Support Registry to help others in life's tough times with money, meals, and so much more.

  • Free to create
  • Easy to use
  • Private and secure

Start now and begin receiving support in minutes.

Start FREE Support Registry