How to Offer Help to a Loved One

It can be difficult to know exactly how to help your loved one. Today’s posting focuses on assisting family and friends in helping their loved one through the treatment phase. The information is from Cancer Guide, Seventh Edition, Vol. 2, November 2013-April 2014 and can help the loved one and also the survivor to know what help they need, how to articulate it, and how to delegate. Often survivors have a difficult time figuring out what they need help with while undergoing treatment. The solution to that is being direct about what you would like to do and when you’re available to do it. The more specific you are, the more likely your loved one will accept your offer of assistance. Be direct about what you would like to do and when you’re available to do it.

Ideas for Offering Help


If you’re good at Communicating volunteer to Be the Spokesperson. This can alleviate the patient’s burden of telling the same story multiple times to different family members and friends. How do you make the offer? “Would you like me to set up a blog or email group and send out daily/weekly updates to your family and friends?”

If you’re good at Cooking Cook Meals (using disposable containers if possible). Healthy eating is important during treatment; in addition, cooking takes time and energy, which survivors often don’t have. How do you offer? “I’m going to swing by with a few frozen meals that you can easily reheat. Do you have any preferences or food allergies?”

If you’re good at Organizing volunteer to help with paperwork. Cancer comes with a lot of paperwork, which can quickly become overwhelming. Help your loved one fill out forms, get bills ready to mail, track insurance claims, and /or assist with setting up an organizational filing system. How do you make the offer: “I swung by the store on my way over and picked up some organizational supplies for you. Do you want any other help staying on top of all your medical paperwork? Curediva is a great site for many items. They have attractive Organizational kits specific for breast cancer survivors.

If you’re good at Driving volunteer to Drive the survivor or Drive the survivor’s family. Survivors often have numerous doctor’s appointments and often are not able to drive themselves, particularly following chemo treatments. Survivors may not have the time or energy to drive themselves places, let alone their families. How to offer? “I’m home all day anyway, so if you give me your appointment schedule, I’ll be happy to drive you.” “Because our children are in the same activities, don’t worry about driving, I’ll just plan to drop off and pick up both of them unless you tell me differently.”

If you’re good at Cleaning volunteer to Take on some household chores. Household chores often take a backseat to everything else that comes with a serious illness. How to offer: “I just finished washing my windows and I’m in the zone. Can I come over and do yours too?” Or, “I enjoy vacuuming, can I come over and give you a hand?”

If you’re good at Caring for Children volunteer to babysit. Children have a lot of energy and crave fun and attention. Survivors who are parents sometimes can’t provide that or simply need a break. How to offer? “I’ve really been wanting to see that new animated movie. Do you think your children would want to come along?” Or, “I’m taking my children to the playground. They just love it when they have other children to play with. Do you think your children would want to come along”?

If you’re an Animal Lover volunteer to help with the family pets. Pets can be affected by the stress of the situation, too, so a little love and attention can go a long way. How to offer? “I usually have some extra time during the day. May I borrow your dog for a walk around noon on weekdays?”

If you’re good at Educating or Advocating volunteer to tag along to doctor’s appointments. Doctor’s appointments can be extremely overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for patients. Four ears are better than two for listening and remembering. In addition, your loved one might want or need some help advocating for her (or his) wishes. How to offer? “I can never remember anything my doctor says. Do you want me to tag along to your next doctor’s appointment and take some notes?”

If you’re good at Crafting volunteer to teach and/or share a hobby. Patients often get restless when they’re stuck at home. If you know how to knit, sew, paint, bead, quilt or something else, teach your loved one. You will not only create a reason to spend time together, you will also alleviate boredom. How to offer? “I never knew how relaxing knitting could be. I have some extra needles and would be happy to teach you. How does Wednesday night sound?”

If you’re good at Working Outdoors volunteer to Mow the Lawn or Shovel snow from the sidewalk and driveway. Yard work is physically demanding and can be exhausting, and many survivors don’t have the stamina for it. During the winter, shoveling is a necessary task, but it can be an impossible one for survivors. How to offer? “The weather is beautiful and I’m looking for an excuse to be outside. Does your lawn need mowing?” Shoveling snow is sometimes better done without asking.

If you’re good at or enjoy Shopping volunteer to grocery shop. The need to eat never goes away, but it is sometimes too difficult for survivors to get to the store. How to offer? “I’m heading to the grocery store and only have a few things on my list. Can I pick up anything for you while I’m there?”

If you’re good at Fixing Things volunteer to Repair broken items around the house. Serious illness can quickly strain a survivor’s budget, leaving little room to pay a handyman. How to offer? “I just fixed my garbage disposal. Who knew I was so handy? Does anything at your house need to be repaired?”

Remember every survivor is different and their needs are different, so talking to them about their needs is a really important aspect of being a good caregiver/loved one. When I was in treatment I so appreciated every gesture of caring and assistance. I remember right after my surgery a friend stopped by with a warm pair of cozy pj bottoms and slipper socks. Friends and family sent baskets of fruit and cookies which were not only nice for me to eat, but were available to serve to guests. I also received already prepared meals and steaks from a mail order meat company. The days I was able to work my co-workers always offered for me to rest and said they would “cover for me.”

All of the above suggestions, even if not accepted, warm the heart of the survivor. Feeling loved and cared for is healing to the mind and the body. And remember, as a caregiver, you need to also take care of yourself. Looking for a support system as a caregiver is very important. provides resources and support that are really useful for everyone, including caregivers and family members.