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Relatives and friends of cancer patients

Cancer is a severe blow not only for the person with the disease but for his or her relatives and friends. In light of the illness, relatives and friends find they have to think about how they relate to cancer and the person who has it. It is hard to see a loved one becoming sick while at the same time learning new qualities and attitudes in oneself.

Many questions prey on cancer patient’s relatives’ and friends’ minds. Will he/she recover? What should you say to the person who has cancer? How can I best be a support? Should I talk about cancer to him/her? Many people feel that they are reacting and thinking about it wrongly.

Each person faces the crisis in his or her own way. It often takes a while before you are ready to take in the fact of having a serious illness. Work, hurrying about or drinking can all shield one from reality. Absorbing the situation will happen in its own time. A practical and calm approach will help you face the situation and avoid unnecessary trepidation.

The best support friends or relatives can give those with cancer is to be there for them and to be prepared to listen to them. It is better to encourage loved ones who are ill to talk about difficult matters than to try to get them to forget about their critical situation. It also takes courage on the part of listeners to confront their own feelings. Sometimes loved ones may feel disappointed if those who are ill do not respond as was hoped, but instead remain aloof or reject the help being offered them. However, the support and care that relatives and friends provide is not wasted.

Advice for the relatives and friends of people with cancer

  • Support the person with cancer as best you can: sometimes simply your presence and nearness are enough.
  • Keep up relationships outside the family: relatives and friends are needed for support during recovery.
  • Try to continue doing the things and recreation that have previously been a source of strength.
  • Supporting someone who is ill is easier when you deal with your own fears, for instance by discussing them with a third party.
  • Be available and tell the person who is ill that you are.
  • If the person who is sick withdraws and does not want to talk, continue to be present and to offer help.
  • Remember that the illness is tiring: if the person who is ill does not feel up to doing something together today, they might tomorrow.

Support for relatives and friends

When a family member has cancer, it requires energy and endurance on the part of other family members and friends. If some things feel too difficult to cope with, it’s good to say so openly.

A loved one of someone with cancer may also need help and support. Family members and friends can get in touch with the CSF’s advice services or visit an oncology nurse at one of the regional cancer associations.

The CSF benefits advice phone service provides information on matters affecting the financial situation of cancer patients and their families.

Peer support and discussion

Some regional cancer associations have provided training for family support persons. These are volunteers who are also the relatives of cancer patients.

Regional cancer associations and patient organisations arrange meetings, support groups and courses for families.

Rehabilitation courses


Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Ensitiedon opas syöpään sairastuneelle. Helsinki.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Nuoren perheen selviytymisopas. Helsinki, 2002.

Suomen Syöpäpotilaat ry. Opas syöpäpotilaan läheiselle. 2011.