14 Must Read Tips for Providing Emotional Support to Cancer Patients

How to Provide Emotional Support for Cancer Patients

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What is the best way to provide emotional support to cancer patients? As an oncology phlebotomist providing support for my cancer patients is one of the biggest rewards of my life.


That being said what can be more challenging is knowing the ways to provide them the support and love they need at a particular stage they may be in.


This is where it can be tricky because in all honesty even though I’ve worked in the oncology field for almost five years now.


I don’t always know the “right thing” to do in providing the emotional support our cancer patients need.

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14 Ways to Show Support for Cancer Patient

Sweet Friend, being an Oncology Phlebotomist has taught me so much about perspective and cherishing the moments and simple things in life we often take for granted.


Most importantly you appreciate the fact that if you personally have health issues you’re struggling with you can always find someone who has it much worse.


How to Provide Emotional Support for Cancer Patients


To begin with, at my Dr’s office all you have to do is spend a few moments in the waiting room and it doesn’t take long at all to see another who is worse off than you.


With this in mind, the patients are feeling emotions such as anger, sadness, helplessness, and confusion. It is often hard for others to know what to say or do in providing them comfort and practical support.


More often than not we fear that displaying “our” emotions will hurt them and that will make them uncomfortable. With that in mind remember it is our strength that will make all the difference. 


So how can you offer support without breaking down yourself? That being said I want to share my tips with you to give you a better understanding of how to help your patient.


Don’t be afraid of showing them YOUR emotions


To be honest I haven’t gotten this mastered just yet. I tell my patients all the time I truly believe that God has given me too much heart and compassion. In saying this I know that’s just silliness however I wear my heart on my sleeve so to speak.


It is ONLY by the grace of God I can stay grounded working in oncology especially when you lose someone to cancer but you have the opportunity to make a difference in the family’s lives and you will be rewarded with treasured memories to last a lifetime.


But to the point, the patients need me to provide them with emotional support and give it selflessly.


Knowing when to listen and yet understand their silence


I have learned the patients well enough to know when they need to get something off their chest. That being said I watch for their cues.


If they are wanting to vent their frustrations allow them to do so and be a good listener because that’s what they’re needing.


Trust me on that. I can not tell you countless times where I simply pull my curtain closed so they can get what they need off their chest.


However, a patient may also not want to talk at all. PLEASE try to be considerate and understanding and don’t take it personally.


Words are not always important but simply being there for them is.


Your patient may have much on their mind and forcing them to talk can make them become irritated and shut down.


Believe this or not but silence is comforting and allows them to express what they may be thinking and dealing with.


Don’t avoid looking them in the eyes


With this intention maintain eye contact with your patient. This gives them the assurance that you are truly present and listening carefully to what they have to say therefore reiterating they are important to you.


Also, our body language and facial expressions will show them our care and support. Also, don’t let the distractions around you to keep from giving them your full attention, therefore, viewing them as your priority.


The reality on How to Provide Emotional Support for Cancer Patients


To begin with, just this past week I had a patient that I could tell has been struggling more than usual. In all sincerity, my heart is breaking watching their drastic decline in health.


Furthermore, they were intentionally avoiding making eye contact with me, and with me knowing them on such a personal level I asked them “Hunny what’s wrong?”


They replied, “Angie I don’t want you to see me breaking down and being weak!”


Bittersweet truth from a cancer patients point of view


Ugh, as if that wasn’t enough in itself to bring tears to my eyes they also said, “I don’t want you witnessing my weakness because I’m supposed to be strong for you!”


I said, “you do not have to worry about thinking I view you as weak for breaking down in tears and it’s ok for you to vent and NOT be strong all the time and handed them a few tissues!”


I also said, “allow God to be your strength right now!”


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 Click To Tweet

Offer them a smile, hug, a shoulder to lean on, and give them a sense of normalcy


Kindness and compassion go a long way and are important ways of demonstrating we understand how difficult their situation is.

In other words, “BE THERE” by showing tender loving care. Just knowing they have a shoulder to cry on will bring them much-needed comfort.


Maintain a sense of normalcy. Talk to them as you would a friend and focus on the individual, not so much the disease because they are more than the actual disease. 


For example, be honest and truthful, in saying, “I’m so sorry and I don’t know what to say” Quite often I will say “If I could take this from you I would.”


Choose Your Words Carefully

In addition to this choose the words you speak with care when trying to offer emotional support to cancer patients. Below are a few examples of what is considered both good and bad things to say to a patient.


Good examples of Providing Emotional Support for Cancer Patients include:


I’m really sorry this is happening to you and I realize it’s not fair.


If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.


How are you going to proceed and how can I help?


Please let me know if you need anything.


Remember I’m here for you and will do all I can for you.


Bad examples of Providing Emotional Support for Cancer Patients include:


I know exactly how you feel.


Allow me to help you consider what you should do.


I’m positive you’ll be fine so try not to worry.


I know someone who had the exact same diagnosis.


Has Dr’s given you any idea how long you have?


Do not say, “I know what you’re going through.” The patient may possibly become upset because in all honesty we can’t comprehend to know and understand how they may feel.


14 must-have Tips for Providing Emotional Support to Cancer Patients when it can be challenging to know the right & wrong ways of giving emotional support.
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Don’t give advice on how they should proceed with their care


We are NOT qualified to give them sound advice. As hard as that can be at times that should be up to their doctors, families, etc…


However, I’m so guilty of doing this very thing. They’ll ask “Angie what should I do or if it were you what would do?”


When offering and providing emotional support to cancer patients it can be a fine line on how to be 100% honest with them.


That being said, when a patient asks me point-blank my opinion I respond by saying that they may not want to know where I stand on the issue.


They’ll say if I didn’t want to know I wouldn’t ask. Much too often I have an open mouth and insert leg syndrome.


Brutal honesty in giving “my advice” on how a cancer patient should proceed on treatment


To get to the point I’m too honest with my feelings on treatment and my reply is blunt. If a Doctor states “Angie you have cancer and we must start treatment right away!”


I would decline it due to the fact I see firsthand every day how it affects people. Not to mention I already have a compromised immune system so I know how it would be for me.


My response is met with confusion because here they are fighting for life while I would choose not to and they don’t understand.


They’ll have tears in their eyes saying “Angie don’t you want to be here for your family?”


I’m like of course I do but they already understand my wishes on this, but for me personally…I KNOW I will be going to a better place!


Not to mention the suffering I see daily. Again they’ll say “I’m considering stopping treatment” and ask my opinion. Truthfully I give it straightforward. My reply is “you have to consider quality vs quantity sometimes.


Limit saying everything is going to be Ok or try not to worry


In my office alone these words are spoken countless times to our cancer patients in a single day.


To tell the truth, they prefer NOT to hear this sentence at all because they tell me, my coworkers, family, etc… “but what if it’s not okay”, or “How do you know?


Instead of trying to reassure them, everything is gonna be ok and not to worry, reassure them they will make it through cancer and you will be with them throughout their journey.


Have conversations that don’t include cancer


In all honesty, they can get really tired of talking about the disease and patients do NOT want to feel like their ONLY identity is being a “CANCER PATIENT.”


Try to keep things normal, laughing, and talking about other things, is a must needed distraction. Talking about everyday topics helps them keep their minds off the “disease” and brings meaning and fulfillment in their lives.


Support for Cancer Patients



As a final point on How to Provide Emotional Support for Cancer Patients


Above all best and most importantly be yourself around them. Much too often we worry about if we are doing and saying things in the right way.


With this in mind, the patients do not want us to treat them as if we need to be walking on eggshells around them. It’s of the utmost importance that we allow our words and actions to reflect what’s in our hearts.


Remember sweet friend, what our cancer patient needs above all else at this time in their lives are compassion and genuine caring. Reassure them that God’s got this and it’s going to be ok!



You may also enjoy reading:

When Some You Love has Cancer 8 Ways to Support Them

16 Bible Verses about Overcoming Struggles

45+ Impressive Inspirational Quotes on Overcoming Obstacles


much love, your sister in Christ, Angie

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13 Comments

  1. This is awesome! Thank you for sharing this clear and direct advice to provide emotional help to cancer patients. It is hard to think of ways how we could possibly help them with their situations, and you just gave the best idea of what we can do to extend support to them.

    1. Thank you so much, Madeline. Working as an Oncology Phlebotomist/Medical Assistant has taught me a great deal when working one on one with patients. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving such positive and encouraging feedback! This means so much to me!

  2. My friend’s mother has just been diagnosed with cancer. Thanks for explaining that it would be smart to talk about other things with her besides how she is doing. It might also be smart for her to find people who have cancer to talk to about things that have helped them.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your friend’s Mother. I couldn’t agree more Penelope. Thank you for stopping by and I appreciate your feedback so very much. Finding someone to talk to who’s been there is extremely helpful. God bless you and I will pray for your friend’s Mom

  3. I struggle to know what to say when someone is going through so much. Your post is so helpful and really helped to open my eyes. Especially about letting silence be okay. You are such a beautiful soul!

    1. Awe! Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Donna. I’m so glad it helped you. Trust me some days doing my job I don’t know the right to say either. Our patients go through so much and YES silence is more than Ok. Thank you for your feedback, I appreciate it so very much.

  4. This post is a wonderful help because people don’t know what to say or do. When I had cancer, I got lots of advice but I just reminded myself that people meant well. I was blessed to have a chemo nurse who was absolutely wonderful. We could joke around about her having all her protective gear on while I had none as she set up the infusion! She made such a difference for me personally.

    Emotional support for cancer patients is huge. The patient sometimes doesn’t know what to say or do either and if someone else does speak up, it helps them.

    1. Thank You Fleda. People do mean well. It definitely makes a difference when you have someone you can connect with on a more personal level to make you feel more comfortable. For my patients the openness in sharing my faith makes them at ease. I appreciate your you, your support, and your feedback so much.

  5. This is wonderful advice on providing emotional support for cancer patients. So often we don’t know how to help when our friends fall ill. Thank you for this!

    1. Thank You so much Heather. It can be hard for me at times to know what to say too. I Appreciate you taking time out of your day to give me your feedback

  6. Angie, this is such great advice for providing emotional support for cancer patients. Your timing on this is perfect as I just found out about a close friend who’s been diagnosed with cancer and I’m seeing her today. Even though I’ve been through it myself, it’s hard to know what to say and do. Your tips are great. Thank you.

    1. Thank You so much Wendy. God’s timing is perfect and exactly when we need it isn’t it? So glad it spoke to your spirit and I pray your Friend’s treatment goes well. Thank You as always for supporting me personally as well as my ministry. It means more to me than you may realize.

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