What To Do For A Friend With Cancer

What to Do For a Friend with Cancer


monogrammed burlap tote

I often receive emails asking what to do for a friend with cancer or another serious illness. So I decided to create a comprehensive post because I know people want to do, say, and give the right thing, but often don’t know what that looks like. Many of the ideas below come from DoSayGive readers. If you’ve had a cancer diagnosis please share what was helpful and meaningful to you and your family in the comment section at the bottom of the post. DoSayGive readers would appreciate it!

As you read the ideas below please remember that every situation, ever cancer diagnosis is different. Use your judgement on gift-giving and helping out by gauging your friend’s needs and wants. If she’s not a super close friend, usually there is a “point of contact” that fields questions and helps ease the burden of coordinating and providing updates. It might be her sister or best friend. Or if you are a close friend, perhaps that is something you can offer to do.

Gifts to Give:

Hermes Scarf
Merry Maids Cleaning Service
Rolling Utility Bag
Door Dash Gift Card
Instacart Membership Giftcard
Amazon Coloring Bible
Barefoot Dreams Blanket
Anne Neilson Comforting Scripture Cards
Athleta Giftcard
Cashmere Wrap
Glass Baby Candle

More ideas: 

  • Beautiful Basket with goodies and of the goodies mentioned below.
  • Restaurant gift cards – helpful on nights she (or her husband) doesn’t want to think about dinner.
  • Gift card to Athleta or Lululemon to get some cute yet comfy clothes
  • Luxurious White and Warren Cashmere Travel Wrap (great for long car rides, hospital waiting rooms, etc. Here is a lighter wrap and this navy one is so pretty.  a Barefoot Dreams Cardigan is an amazing gift for any woman.
  • Gift certificate to a juice bar or similar place.
  • Manicure gift card (Dallas has Download Cherry that comes to homes and hospitals)
  • Beautiful Word Coloring Bible with colored pencils. (Reader recommended) It might be be cathartic to color and dwell on Scripture.
  • Scripture cards. Love Anne Neilson’s Scripture cards with the acrylic frame that can be changed out
  • Gift card to grocery delivery service
  • Movie gift cards
  • Gift certificate for private chef to cook doctor recommended meals.
  • House cleaning gift certificate
  • Food delivery gift cards
  • Inspiring candles from Anne Neilson Home or Glassbaby
  • Pay for lawn service
  • Membership to babysitting service
  • Make a Spotify playlist of encouraging music or a list of favorite stations/podcasters/sermon series. Or ask if she’d like you to download some on her phone. On that note, some nice headphones or earbuds.
  • Handwrite a list of encouraging Bible verses along with a thoughtful note.
  • Send an easy activity or craft she can do with her children.
  • More ideas for a gift basket:
    • Cozy socks, throw blanket, beautiful robe, Barefoot dreams wrap, slippers, magazines, silk pillowcase, purel, breath mints, fancy hand lotion like L’Occitane, adult coloring book and pencils, healthy snacks, beautiful notecards to write thank you notes, stamps, gift card to hospital food court, gift cards to hospital parking garage and valet, lounge pants, cross she can hold, chapstick. These bookmarks are nice to keep on hand for little gifts.
  • Also see this post about what to bring someone in the hospital
  • *Note about homemade food gifts: many cancer patients have dietary restrictions, are subject to nausea, or are understandably hesitant about germs and infections so I don’t recommend sending homemade foods unless you know for sure they are wanted. 
Anne Neilson Scripture Cards
Anne Neilson Scripture Cards

Gifts from a Group:

Ideas that would be give to give from a group such as a Sunday school class, school, co-workers. Obviously, each situation is different – and always ask first – but these ideas might be helpful:

  • Basket of Restaurant Gift Cards.
  • Gift Certificate to Whole Foods or local juice bar. Particularly helpful if doctor has put her on a specific diet.
  • Credit to food delivery service.
  • Gift a lawn service or find a day where everyone can plant flowers and spruce up for the next season.
  • Pay for someone to install outside Christmas lights or do as a group.
  • Gift dog walking service.
food gift basket
If she doesn’t feel like going out to lunch bring lunch to her in a beautiful basket!

Thoughtful things you can do:

  • Set a reminder on your phone to send an encouraging text every week or every few weeks. Sometimes after the initial diagnosis the texts wane so keep her in forefront of your mind. She might not respond and that’s okay.
  • Ask her to go on walks.
  • Ask her to a movie or fun restaurant.
  • Send encouraging notes on a regular basis. These notecards created by Margaret Feinberg, a cancer survivor, say more than “I’m sorry.” I like these, these, and these.
  • Always call before you visit, whether she’s at home or in the hospital.
  • Set up a care calendar for thoughtful gestures, notes, gifts.
  • Plant pretty seasonal flowers in her front porch pots. Or get a group of friends together to fill some flower beds to make her home happy and welcoming (with permission, of course!).
  • Love her children.Take them to get yogurt or to do something fun.

Helpful things you can do:

  • Don’t say “What can I do?” say “I’m at the store do you need some milk?”
  • Offer to babysit if needed. Offer knowledge or research programs like Mommies in Need in Dallas that provide nannies to stay at home moms who have a health crisis.
  • Feed/walk pets.
  • Run errands: go to post office, pick up prescriptions, return Redbox movies/library books. Perhaps set aside one time a week for her that she knows you will run an hour or two of errands.
  • Set up a meal or children’s care calendar.
  • Let her dictate a list of tasks that need to be done and then help do them or enlist her friends to help.
  • Fold the basket of laundry sitting out when you visit.
  • Offer to set up (and possibly update) a Caring Bridge page.
  • Text when you’re at Target/grocery and ask what they need.
  • Take children to school/bring them home.
  • Offer to bring child to extracurricular activities. Don’t say “Let me know how I can help.” Say: “Count on me to bring your daughter to and from volleyball on Thursdays if needed.” (She will decline if not needed.)
  • Grocery shop or give grocery delivery service gift cards.
  • Think about how you can take pressure off the spouse. (Grocery shopping, errand running, carting children around town, etc…)
  • Offer to clean out refrigerator when you are visiting (close friends only!).
  • Water plants.
  • Pick up family members from airport.
  • Write thank you notes/pay bills/make phone calls.
  • Sit with her during chemo.
  • Drive her to doctor’s appointments.
  • Set up a GoFund Me or bank account for donations if needed (always ask first, of course!)
  • Be mindful of her compromised immune system. Do no visit if you are sick or your children are currently sick. On that note, if your child is in her child’s class, don’t send your child to school while sick. 

What to Say:

  • “I’m thinking of you”
  • “I’m praying for you.”
  • “We are here you for you.”
  • “You look rested today.”
  • “No need to respond to this text.”
  • “Did you get the gift I dropped off?” (To respond to every gift, kind gesture can be overwhelming. In time, she probably will, but do not prompt any guilt with this question.)
  • “Do NOT write a thank you note for this gift.”
  • “Do you want to talk about it? If so, I am here to listen. If not, I totally understand and we can go take our minds of everything at a movie.”
  • Feel free to talk about things other than the cancer. What’s going on at school, work, funny stories if the mood is appropriate.

What NOT to Say:

  • “How are you?” (This can be too exhausting to answer; use some of the phrases above.)
  • “Tell me everything your doctor said at your last appointment.” Again, exhausting. Unless she willingly offers, it’s inappropriate to ask someone every detail of her diagnosis and prognosis.
  • “If you start [essential oils, a raw food diet, etc.] it can cure this.” Don’t offer medical advice or dietary advice unless asked.
  • “My dad’s brother had [a completely different form of] cancer and he’s fine!” Don’t give false optimism or intangible comparisons.
  • “I know how you feel.” Unless you really do.
  • I highly recommend reading about the The Ring Theory as a reminder of what’s appropriate and not when discussing things with people close to the friend with cancer. And while not on specifically about cancer, Option B by Sheryl Sandberg is a very helpful book to read if you have a friend going through an illness or tragedy. It has so many practical things to say and do. Many times things are done or said with good intention, but can be very hurtful.

Now this is one of the posts where the comments will probably be more helpful that the actual post. Please share below what you have done for friends or they have done for you. DoSayGive readers love to read your suggestions and ideas!

Jute Market Tote available in so many cute patterns from Chocolate Bags


What do you think?

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10 thoughts on “What to Do For a Friend with Cancer

  1. I know this may be questionable for some, but when I was going through treatment I was so grateful for the friends who brought a bottle of wine (my Doc said yes), and came over to gossip about what was going on “outside”. Part of C is that after diagnosis and the initial calls, gifts, etc…life just goes on as normal for everyone else. The concern is still there-I just wanted to participate in as much normal as I could.

    1. Thank you for sharing this with us! We need our girlfriends and “girl talk” during the good times and the hard times!

  2. Completely agree with A. I’m currently going through treatment and normalcy is necessary. Having your friends come by to chat or ask you to lunch is one of the best things they can do. We are treated like cancer patients so often that it is always appreciated when we are treated like our regular selves. Also, your note about avoiding sick people is so important. I had a friend who brought dinner when her husband had the flu in January. We are so incredibly thankful for her but it creates a large amount of unnecessary stress on us.

  3. Thank you for taking time to put this together! All of your posts are great, but this one is extremely helpful!

  4. When my husband had a cancer we had to move across the country to Houston, TX(we live in GA) for him to receive radiation treatment. Some friends of ours made a prayer chain(the kind of chains kids make in school with strips of construction paper) there was a link for each day of his treatment with a different uplifting scripture verse on it. It was crazy how the verse was usually exactly what we needed to hear that day and it was so fulfilling to see the chain get shorter and shorter as the treatments came to an end! I still have all the pieces of paper to remind us of how the lord and our friends wrapped us in love during that time!

  5. Great post!! I completely agree about not always asking about cancer and talking about other things. It is tough when all people think about when they look at you if cancer and I would like to discuss other things more positive in life!

    Also, be mindful of the fact that their immune systems are low (especially those of us with cancer like leukemia) and to stay away if you have been around sick people or are not feeling well!

    The greatest gift is offering prayers and actually praying!

  6. This is a great post. We recently lost my father-in-law to cancer. I feel that cards and notes are a huge encouragement in any tough situation and I like that you can read and enjoy them privately, at a good time. Also we found there were lots of hospital visitors on Sunday afternoons. One friend brought a bunch of iced coffees to share with anyone who was there. Small things like that are so thoughtful and just make you smile. I agree with you about NEVER offering treatment advice or comparing the situation to one you know about. Stick with positivity and encouragement!

  7. When my Grandaddy was going through chemo treatment while I was in high school and living at home, my mom took primary care of him, leaving her often exhausted physically and mentally. Our best family friend came to our house and cleaned it from top to bottom, did our family’s laundry, stocked the fridge, and prepared meals/suppers for the week. It was truly the nicest thing anyone has ever done for us, and I will always remember her genuine kindness. Of course, this was a very personal, and we view this family almost as my “second mom.” For someone not as close, I think the option of gifting a home-cleaning service is wonderful. I also love your idea of gifting a meal/food delivery service. Wonderful blog post, and going to save this for the future (although, I would pray to never have to use it!)

  8. When my mother in law got cancer years ago, I got a large frame and made a collage of pictures of her grandchildren. I also got her a cotton nightgown and had all her grandchildren put their handprint on it. Simple but sweet.