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How to support loved ones through serious illness

Getting a diagnosis or going through treatment for a serious illness can be overwhelming. It turns life upside down for patients and the people who love them. As a friend, family member or coworker of someone experiencing diagnosis or treatment, you might struggle to know how to provide support.

Here are some tips to help you be there for your loved one during this challenging time. 

  • Know that you are an important part of health care. The community surrounding a patient is critically important to healing. A doctor can only help patients who show up and follow treatment guidelines. By supporting your loved one, you help give him or her strength to face the challenges ahead.
  • Support healthy lifestyle choices. A serious diagnosis can change a person's entire worldview. Nutrition and exercise are two things that are within an individual's control. You can help empower healthy choices by asking: Is there a kind of movement that would feel good right now? Is there a kind of food I can make that sounds tasty? Listen to the answers and offer support  in whatever way feels right for him or her.
  • Encourage list-making. As questions and concerns come up during the diagnosis and treatment process, encourage your loved one to keep a list—or document them yourself. This is a helpful tool for both the patient and care team during appointments.
  • Understand your resources. You and your loved one are never alone in this journey. There are many different support groups, online communities and training programs for patients and caregivers. Many treatment programs offer multiple ways to connect with their care team outside of doctor appointments, including phone calls, virtual visits and home visits.

When you're not sure how to best be there for someone you love, don't be afraid to ask. Your support is key to living well with a serious illness.


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