How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

How to help someone who has cancer

Unfortunately, over the past year, a number of people in my life have been impacted by cancer. As many of you know, my good friend Theodora lost her mother to ovarian cancer in July and just last week, my mentor and role model within our company, had a bilateral mastectomy.  My first reaction, when I hear about someone being impacted by this horrible disease is to ask how I can help.  But, since often those being impacted are still in a state of shock and trying to adjust to their new normal, they don’t know what they need. This has left me feeling helpless historically but this time, I turned to Instagram to ask for suggestions and support. The response was overwhelming and so helpful as I looked for ways to support my friend this week and moving forward as she recovers from her mastectomy and battles breast cancer.

After asking for suggestions on Instagram, many of you asked that I share the responses as unfortunately, this is a familiar situation for many people. Some of these suggestions are ones that support the patients family while others are gifts or tokens to be shared with your friend or loved one who has cancer. I hope you all find this list helpful if you ever are faced with the news that a loved one or friend has been diagnosed with cancer or another illness.

  • Organize for someone to help with yard work, cleaning around the house or babysitting children to help relieve some of the daily stresses. If you live locally, offer to do some of this yourself.
  • Send an age-appropriate care package to their children as this can be a confusing and difficult time for the child and they may feel forgotten among all the stress and appointments.
  • Just show up for them. You don’t have to have plans but be there to listen to them, support them and do anything they want to do even if it’s watching this week’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy or folding laundry.
  • Simply keep them in your thoughts. Do your best to keep track of appointments, surgeries, treatments and other milestones so you can call, text or send them a note to let them know you are thinking about them.
  • Buy them things that can make them comfortable such as a cozy robe, indulgent hand lotion, or a satin pillowcase.
  • Send them a delivery food gift card or gift card to their favorite local restaurants.
  • Button down pajamas can be very helpful for someone who has recently had a surgery so a nice, luxurious pair will be a welcome gift.
  • Put together a box of items they can take with them to chemo or treatments such as trashy magazines, a Kindle with a gift card for books, hard candies, a cozy cardigan or robe as they are often cold during chemo.
  • Soothing candles such as the Aveda candles can help them feel more calm and relaxed at home when they are resting and recovering.
  • Check out websites like which were set up to help friends and family members find gifts for loved ones during this exact same scenario.
  • A gift card to Nordstrom or their favorite store so they can purchase new tops as they may need this after surgery.
  • Epsom salts and essential oils will be wonderful to help relax their achy joints from the medicine and treatments.
  • Take them homemade chicken noodle soup or freezer meals that they can enjoy later.
  • Buy or bake them pot edibles if that’s your style or ginger based food.
  • Many people recommend button or zip front shirts, especially something by the person’s favorite brand or color to bring them joy.
  • Lots and lots of hard candy that they can such on as chemo often gives patients a funny taste in their mouth. Lemon drops, ginger candies, and mints are highly recommended.
  • Small signs that show love or positive mantras such as “You Got This” that they can focus on during tough times.
  • Whipping up a batch of energy balls or bars that can easily be carried to treatment and enjoyed on the go when their energy levels are low are greatly appreciated.
  • Essential oils such as lavender and frankincense can help with relaxation.
  • Gift certificates for acupuncture or other relaxing treatments can help them feel better, relax and pamper themselves.
  • Gift cards to or their favorite local wine store so they, or their family, can enjoy their favorite wine.
  • Popsicles are a great gift and appreciated by patients going through chemo.
  • Homemade soup or soup from a local restaurant is the perfect comfort food for any patient.
  • Giving their care givers gifts of items that can help relax and de-stress such as Aveda bath products + body lotions.
  • If the person or their family likes to cook, there are some new cookbooks such as The Cancer Fighting Kitchen, Cook for your Life, The New Generation Breast Cancer Book can be great resources.
  • Many people, such as Emily Garnett, have shared their own story, and reading their blogs and story can help you better understand what your friend or loved one is going through.
  • If your friend has a mastectomy or surgery, buy them a pretty shirt that is not low cut, such as a boat neck top.
  • A necklace or bracelet with a positive mantra such as “strength” or “never give up” like the beautiful Erica Sara bracelet below, which was a favorite of Theodora’s moms and what I purchased for my friend. Also, 50% of the proceeds from the sale of NEVER GIVE UP jewelry will be donated to the fight against ovarian cancer.

  • Put together a gift box or care package of items frequently appreciated by people going through chemo or other treatments.
    • Fuzzy socks
    • Cozy blanket
    • Chapstick
    • Large water bottle
    • Hard candy
    • Ginger chews
    • Fun nail polish
    • Books and gift cards to Amazon, Barnes & Noble
    • Magazines
    • Crossword books
    • Adult coloring books
    • Fragrance-free lotion

Thank you so much to everyone who provided recommendations! If you have a recommendation that you don’t see here, please share it in the comments and I’ll update the post!

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  1. Chrissy February 8, 2018 / 12:58 pm

    Popsicles!! This is a wonderful but sad post to have to do but I appreciate it. My best friend is a 16 year breast cancer survivor and went through lots of popsicles while in treatment. When Sex and the City’s Samantha was in chemo, the girls were sucking on them with her. I remember, at the time, thinking someone really did their research for this story line.

    • ashleyd February 8, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      Thank you so much Chrissy for this important reminder! I’ll update to add popsicles!

  2. Jessica February 8, 2018 / 1:03 pm

    I love this post. Thank you for being so considerate of your friends and for sharing this list with those who may be searching for it.

    I wanted to add, don’t forget caregivers, as well. I’m sure Theodora can speak to this, but caregivers for cancer patients often end up drained emotionally and physically and can use some support and encouragement to take care of themselves, too. Gifts of items that can help to relax and de-stress are incredibly welcome (I love the stress relief line of bath products + body creams/lotions at Aveda for this purpose), but sometimes just an acknowledgment that the caregiver is also going through a really hard time can be just the strength they need to keep going.

    Your mentor is in my prayers.

    • ashleyd February 8, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      Thank you so much Jessica! That is such a great poing regarding care givers so yes I should of course highlight their needs as well.

      • Theodora February 8, 2018 / 6:40 pm

        WINE. And/or some self-care indulgence like a massage or facial. Kayla sent me a gift card to Heyday right after my mom passed, and it was the perfect gesture.

  3. Kirsten February 8, 2018 / 5:32 pm

    This is such a beautiful, thoughtful post!

    On Christmas Eve I had an accident and by luck my parents got me two pairs of pajamas for Christmas. To me, having warm and cozy pajamas to put on after my bath each evening were EVERYTHING! They provided me with such comfort. It made me think that if someone close to me were sick or injured a great gift for them would be pajamas!

    SOUP! There is nothing quite like to soothe the soul or a sore mouth. It really is love in a bowl.

    • ashleyd February 8, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      Thank you so much Kirsten! I will DEFINITELY add soup – thank you!

  4. Suzanne February 8, 2018 / 11:22 pm

    I’ve purchased a wonderful gift box from for a few friends and family members that are going through cancer treatments and all were thrilled with the thoughtfulness of each item and of the amazing quality of the gifts. The boxes include a cozy blanket, a candle, cookies, a plant, and a prayer and the proceeds from each purchase supports wonderful organizations (see the website for details). Highly recommend! (Not affiliated with them at all)

  5. Beth February 14, 2018 / 2:02 am

    Thank you so much for writing this post. These are all great suggestions and unfortunately many of us will have to help our friends and family through this at some point. This is incredibly helpful.

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