When A Loved One Has Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

A cancer diagnosis changes your life and the lives of the people who love you. It can be especially challenging for your loved ones because they may want to appear strong and optimistic even though they’re scared to death on the inside.

In addition to worrying about their loved one’s cancer, they may be running the household, struggling with piles of incomprehensible insurance forms, communicating with far-flung family members, and trying to earn enough money to pay the mounting bills. Life doesn’t get much more stressful.

I talk with many people who acknowledge this stress, but who also say that helping their loved one through cancer was the best thing they ever did.

What’s essential is to understand that the role of the loved one is to support and comfort, not to “fix” the problem.

Men tend to have a harder time with this because we somehow expect ourselves to fix whatever is broken.  Cancer isn’t always fixable.

When people are diagnosed with cancer, they don’t want their loved ones to say, “I promise you that you’ll be cured.”

What they want to hear is, “I love you and I’ll be here with you for whatever comes.”

There are things the loved ones can do for their own well-being.

  • Carve out some time for yourself, even a few minutes each day. Exercise is especially beneficial because it burns off tension, improves your sleep, and recharges your body.
  • Create an outlet where you can talk about you on a regular basis. A therapist, pastor, or long-time friend are good sources of support.
  • Don’t try to do everything yourself. Accept offers of help.


There’s no way to make caring for a seriously ill loved one easy or painless. It can be exhausting at best and absolutely harrowing at worst. But for many of us, it ‘s the single most courageous and important act of our lives.


From the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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