5 mins. read

How to support someone going through chemotherapy

supporting someone going through chemo Perci Health

Key takeaways

  • Listen with empathy: Allow them to lead the conversation and try not to interrupt while they speak. Remember, it’s okay to ask questions, but avoid the knee-jerk response of wanting to solve their problems. 
  • Offer practical support: Running errands, picking up groceries and doing household chores can help the person going through chemo while giving those caring for them, such as their partner, parent, or child, more time for themselves.
  • Put together a chemo care package: Useful items such as warm socks, unscented hand cream and herbal tea bags will help keep them comfortable and help to manage some of the side-effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and dry skin.

If you have a family member, friend or colleague who has been diagnosed with cancer and is having chemotherapy, you might wonder what you can do to best them during this difficult time. While everyone’s experience of cancer treatment – and, therefore, what they will find helpful – will be different, our guide provides some useful suggestions. Here we share how to support someone going through chemotherapy.

Be a good listener

Good listening requires presence and thoughtful attention. When someone is going through chemo, they will likely feel a range of emotions and experience a variety of side-effects. Many people simply want someone to listen to them wholeheartedly if they choose to talk about how they’re feeling.

If your loved one indicates that they want to talk, be a good listener by:

  • Turning off distractions, such as the TV or your phone
  • Creating a relaxed, private environment
  • Maintaining eye contact without staring
  • Letting them lead the conversation
  • Avoiding interrupting them while they are talking
  • Not discussing someone else’s experience with cancer
  • Trying not to give advice unless they ask for it
  • Not holding back from showing your own feelings

Offer hands-on support

Practical support can be invaluable for someone going through chemo, as well as anyone involved in their care. Hands-on help can be particularly important if the person having treatment lives on their own, as it can feel overwhelming, or even impossible, to manage household responsibilities on top of appointments and recovery, alone.

If you are unsure of what hands-on support will be most valuable, ask. Have an open conversation about when you can offer assistance and what you are happy or able to do.

Ideas for hands-on support for someone going through chemotherapy include:

  • Food shopping
  • Laundry
  • Gardening
  • Picking up children from school
  • Babysitting
  • Cleaning
  • Collecting prescriptions
  • Pet walking
  • Running errands

Go with them to appointments

Offering to take someone to their appointments not only provides support to the person going through chemo but can offer some respite to their primary caregiver, if they have one.

They may want someone to drive them to and fro, or they may appreciate you going to appointments with them, for emotional support. During treatment, patients can feel overwhelmed with the amount of information they receive and experience brain fog, so it might be worth asking them if they’d like you to take notes during appointments, so they refer to them later.

Prepare or organise the delivery of meals

Eating after chemotherapy isn’t always easy as treatment can cause a loss of appetite, taste changes and food aversions. In addition, many people who have chemo experience fatigue, so don’t necessarily have the energy to cook nutritious meals.

You can offer support in the form of cooking meals that they can freeze and reheat or offering to organise a meal delivery service. Make sure to ask the person:

  • What foods they like or can currently stomach
  • If they have any dietary requirements
  • What size of meals they would like
  • If they would appreciate easy-to-grab snacks for low-energy days
  • How much fridge/freezer space they have so food doesn’t go to waste

Give them a chemo-friendly gift

Whether it’s a co-worker, friend or a member of your family going through chemo, a well thought out gift can help them to stay positive. Chemotherapy has a range of side effects such as:

  • Dry skin and lips
  • Aching legs
  • Joint pain
  • hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and sickness
  • A sore mouth

Buying gifts that can help alleviate these symptoms is a thoughtful idea. Any items that are useful for when the person is attending appointments or recovering after treatment are worth considering. Examples of chemo-friendly gifts include:

  • Unscented hand cream and lip balm
  • A reusable hot and cold pack
  • Tissues
  • Warm socks and/or a hat
  • A light yet reusable water bottle
  • Sensitive toothpaste and alcohol-free mouthwash
  • Books and magazines
  • Colouring books and pencils
  • Handheld games
  • Herbal tea
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Massage voucher

Simply be there

For many people going through chemotherapy, simply knowing that there are people they can reach out to is what really matters. You can offer valuable emotional support just by being there for them. Give them a call to check in or pop by to see them, have a chat and give them some company. Just remember to ask first in case they aren’t feeling up for visitors.

Conversation doesn’t always have to centre around their diagnosis. In fact, there doesn’t have to be any conversation at all. You could watch a film, read magazines side by side or sit in the garden and have a cup of tea together, for example.

Here at Perci Health, our cancer support specialists are here for anyone affected by cancer. We have a range of virtual support types available including dieticians, counsellors and mindfulness and meditation practitioners.