How to Be Supportive of a Family Battling Childhood Cancer

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and “Heroes for Children”, a Texas based non-profit providing assistance to families affected by childhood cancer, graciously provided a few tips on what to say (and not to say) to a family with a child battling cancer. This post is written for thoughtful friends and family members who are often at a loss as to what to say and do in this difficult situation.


  • Do take matters in your own hands. Your friend or family member may not specifically reach out and ask for help. Be prepared to jump in and be proactive by:

                         Cooking a meal. Make an extra casserole during your weekly routine and drop it off with a vegetable, starch and a thoughtful note. A batch of home baked bread or something sweet will make a welcome addition to the family’s main course.

                         Offering to drive their other children to soccer, tennis, dance class or other extra-curricular activities.  This small act is a huge help and will maintain some normalcy in the lives of the other children and family members.

                         Mowing their lawn, watering their plants and keeping an eye on their home while they are away. Neighbors can be a great source of support during a time that is often chaotic.

  • Do ask about any special events that may be taking place, like a birthday or special holiday. Offer to buy birthday cards, holiday gifts or bake a birthday cake – anything that will take the extra load of parents.
  • Do take gifts to the hospital that makes life more convenient.  Think gift cards to restaurants around the hospital, gas cards, telephone cards and items such as soft pj’s for the child, coloring books or an assortment of magazines and books.
  • Do keep your hospital visits short—15 to 20 minutes is best. Caring for a child with cancer is physically and emotionally draining for both the parents and the child.  A thoughtful visit that is not over-extended will be greatly appreciated.


  • Don’t use terms such as terminal or incurable. While admittedly, there is no good way to describe a disease, Heroes for Children suggests a better phrase might be “life threatening”, which sounds less harsh.
  • Don’t discount the illness by saying “at least you caught it early” or, at least he or she has the “good kind of cancer”. While your intentions are good, it may lead to the parents withdrawing from accepting support because they cannot express their true concerns. Be respectful of how the family is feeling—scared, stressed and unsure—and offer whatever type of support they need.
  • Don’t draw comparisons to an illness or similar experience in your life.  Though you may feel the temptation to bring up a cancer story from your own family, avoid doing so unless it is hopeful and positive.
  • Don’t take it upon yourself to suggest alternative forms of treatment or holistic options.  Unless you are asked, do not offer your unsolicited opinions.

You may not always know the words to say, showing your concern through any one of the gestures above will convey your love and concern.  Sharing an act of service and kindness with a family dealing with cancer will be appreciated and long remembered.



Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>