At some point in your life, you may sadly discover that your family member or friend has cancer. Even if you are not the one experiencing it yourself, I know firsthand that the indirect impact of this diagnosis can be truly taxing. As I acknowledge both Lung Cancer Awareness Month and, on the last day of November, Stomach Cancer Awareness Day, I urge you to understand how you can support those you care about through this trying time.

Offer your services

When someone you care for is living with cancer, you may experience a “fight or flight” response, especially with the frequency of ups and downs your sick loved one is likely to go through. That is, there will be times when you may wish to be there for your loved one, and there will be times when you may run away. Either way, your heart rate and blood pressure will rise, and your senses will become hypersensitive. Most people are looking for some form of support or company. If you don’t know what to say or how to treat them, I recommend “putting yourself in their shoes.” You can also say, “I don’t know what to say.” Rather than asking if you can help, just do it. Try running specific errands for them to help ease their burden. This may include looking after their kids or pets, picking up prescriptions, and helping them with cleaning or cooking. I find that even joining them to watch a light-hearted TV show or can truly help to lift their spirits.

Follow their lead

Allow your family member or friend the ability to decline your offer to visit, call, or run errands for them without taking it personally. Assure them you are available if they change their mind—and continue to ask without being overbearing. It’s important to remember they are the ones you need to consider right now. Throughout this time, their well-being is more important than your ego.

In my experience, it is crucial to take cues from them whether to discuss the “elephant in the room.” If they are depressed, embrace it with them and avoid changing the subject. Be a shoulder for them to cry on or a sounding board. If they simply want to laugh and have fun, whip out your best impressions and stand-up routines. Overall, try to be someone they can feel comfortable with and as normal as possible.

Check-ins and small tokens

It can be difficult to determine how your loved one feels, what they’re thinking, or what they need from you. Open communication and regular check-ins help to ensure they are okay. Unfortunately, cancer can take as much of a mental toll on patients as it does physically.

As a small gesture, gifts can be a nice way to show an affected family member or friend they are on your mind and important to you. Framed photos, music, DVDs, magazines, books, fashion accessories, comfortable clothing or socks, soft bedding and flowers are a few ideas you can explore.

Sometimes, the best help you can provide to a loved one living with cancer is a visit, but not necessarily having to say anything. I have had this experience personally, where you are sitting with your loved one, when nothing is said, but everything is understood. That is truly being there for that person.

If you’ve tried the steps above and feel you are struggling, consider contacting your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Your EAP was established to help people just like you, and you may wish to utilize their specialized OnCallogic Services. Watching your loved one go through cancer is never easy, which is why counselling, guidance, and other helpful resources can be beneficial to you during this time. Your feelings are important too, and you should know that you are not alone.