How to Show Up & Support Someone with a Serious Illness (no, all support isn’t created equal!)

14 May

How to Show Up & Support Someone with a Serious Illness

Guest Post by Tonya M. Evans,

Guest ink …

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

~Helen Keller~

couplestandingI found this excellent information from on Twitter and immediately thought of my sisterfriend, PinkWellChick. Because it’s a funny (unfunny) thing about how serious illnesses impact not only the patient but also their friends and family. All too often we, as supporters, fall short of what our loved one needs in the midst of a fight for their own survival.

Too often well-intentioned people don’t know what to say or do so they say and do nothing. But in those moments of fear, sadness, confusion and uncertainty when confronted with a loved one’s serious diagnosis it’s important as supporters NOT to focus on the perfect thing to say or do but just to be there. Even if all you can muster is “I don’t know WHAT to do or say but I love you and I’m with you every step of the way” those words could make the difference that day.

It’s vital to show up consistently in a way that honors where your loved one is in their health management process. Most everyone shows up in the beginning. But it’s important to remain connected and supportive in a meaningful, helpful way over time as well.

But I’ve learned as I’ve navigated this supporter space, all support is NOT created equal. So I was delighted to find this advice and eager to share it with all of the supporters out there!

Source:, by Donna Cardillo

When someone receives a diagnosis of cancer or other serious illness, some friends and extended family members sometimes distance themselves from that person and his/her immediate family. The reasons may vary but some folks simply don’t know what to do or say, so they avoid contact altogether. This reaction causes pain, sorrow and a sense of alienation for the person who is ill and his or her family.

7 ways to support someone during serious illness:

  1. Let them know you’re thinking of them but respect their need for privacy and space: This is VERY important. Those faced with a serious illness like cancer need to know you care. But don’t overwhelm them with constant calls and requests for information. Luckily in the PinkWellChick™ support circle we are blessed to have updates via Twitter and, as well as this blog. But too many requests for information can be intrusive and draining and can cause isolation rather than connection. There’s a fine line here. Be careful not to cross it.
  2. DO send occasional notes, texts, e-mails (unless asked not to) but DO NOT expect a reply. Keep in mind that someone who is working through a serious illness must focus all of their time, attention and energy on their own healing. It’s not about decorum (and certainly not about YOU); it’s about their wellness and survival. And even if they wanted to, they couldn’t possibly reply to everyone. But they need your positive energy, thoughts and prayers. Give without expectation of anything in return. This is a really important part of the support circle.
  3. “Rah, rah, shish boom bah” isn’t always necessary or appropriate. Sometimes our loved ones can be down, irritable and depressed. That is not the time for platitudes and blind enthusiasm. Sometimes they need to purge, to vent, to cry, scream or whatever they need to feel and release their emotions. In fact, crying has REAL, verifiable scientific benefits. Sometimes it’s not about “fixing” them. Sometimes it’s just about giving them a safe place to come undone.

[….] Read the rest of the article for more ways to support someone during a serious illness.

Just know that it takes courage to be present for someone struggling for their very survival. But on our best day, we as supporters will never have to exhibit the type of courage it takes to confront serious illness and press on.

It takes a village to support someone with a serious illness and his or her family members/caregivers. There are many different ways you can help and support and just stay in touch. Everyone is a little different as is every situation, so take your cues from the person/people you are trying to support. And if you’re concerned about being intrusive, don’t be afraid to ask if what you’re doing is “too much.” Sometimes “too much” is better than too little. By Donna Cardillo

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