Offering Appropriate Help

Posted on Nov 15, 2016 | No Comments

Appropriate Help for YAs

When a family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, many of us are impacted emotionally, and many of us struggle with knowing how to best “be there” for that person. This post includes some tips we’ve compiled to help you know what can be helpful, and what can be unhelpful in being there for a friend.

Note that many of these tips are extracted from the Cancer Quick Start Guide written by psychiatrist and younf adult cancer patient Elana Miller (

Ten Things TO DO for YAs

Here are some thing you can do to help a YA friend or family member:

  1. DO offer to help, with no strings attached, but only if you’re actually willing to follow through.
  2. DO be willing to just listen to your YA friend, without offering advice. When checking in, DO listen, but DON’T always ask for all the details about the current state of your friend’s health.
  3. DO offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better: commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments.
  4. DO tell your YA friend that you love and care for them. Know that your message means a lot, even if they don’t have the energy to respond.
  5. DO offer to visit, and check in to make sure it’s okay. Symptoms can shift quickly, and when your YA is in discomfort or distress, s/he may not want company: respect that need.
  6. Do set a calendar alert reminding you to check in with a quick hello or offer of help on a regular basis.
  7. Shortly after diagnosis, many YAs get overwhelmed by well-meaning friends who are reaching out and offering help or comfort. If you’re a family member or close friend, you can help by offering to be the “point person” who screens calls, schedules visits, and coordinates things.
  8. DO offer specific help; don’t ask “what can I do to help,” which can mean that you’ve unwittingly made your friend responsible to figure something else out.
  9. DO remember that your friend’s spouse and children might need comfort and grace as well.
  10. DO remember to still be there a few months after the diagnosis, when it’s not so new anymore. The fanfare will have died down, but your friend will still be struggling and needing logistical and emotional help.

Seven Things to NOT DO to Help a YA:

  1. DO NOT make their cancer about you. Your YA has permission to be selfish and focus on their own needs for the time being; if you need help dealing with your own stress with the diagnosis and any responsibilities that have landed on you as a result, please reach out to someone else for help.
  2. AVOID getting upset when your messages are not returned. It’s not about you.
  3. DO NOT offer medical advice, unless you’re a healthcare practitioner. DO NOT tell the person about an alternative treatment that you’ve heard is miraculous. Your friend is already doing research and consulting with trusted professionals.
  4. DO NOT intrude on physical or emotional space without asking about boundaries. What level of personal disclosure did you share with your YA friend before their illness? Would it be appropriate to touch them if they didn’t have cancer? Could you ask first? A little common sense goes a long way.
  5. DO NOT disappear when the fanfare dies down. Right after a diagnosis is when everyone comes out of the woodwork wanting to help; the truest friends are distinguished as those who are still there months later.
  6. DO NOT assume that you know everything … or anything. Don’t assume you know how your friend feels, what caused their illness, that they will get better, what will cure or help it, etc. Listen to them with an open heart and open mind, and be humble with what you assume
  7. DO NOT offer help when you’re not fully able and willing to follow through with it. Be mindful when offering help; are you sure this is something you can actually do when your friend needs you?  Offering something and then failing to follow through is far worse than never offering in the first place.

Eight Things to Bring a YA

If you want to bring your YA a gift, consider one of these ideas:

  1. A magazine or book that your YA might enjoy reading.
  2. A massage at home
  3. A cozy blanket for couch lounging
  4. A scarf, hat, or wig for when treatment causes hair loss
  5. A comfy blanket to take to the infusion center
  6. If your YA friend is hospitalized, consider buying a weekly or monthly parking pass for a family member who’s visiting regularly. Hospital parking costs add up.
  7. At certain times, like when your YA is hospitalized or bed-bound, delivering a meal to your YA’s family is an incredible help. Or you can call a local restaurant and have a meal delivered. And there are home catering services available almost everywhere these days.
  8. Take your YA’s child(ren) out to a park or an event.

Leave a Reply