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Five Tips when someone you know has cancer

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

By Martine G. Brousse (not AI!)

"The Medical Bill Whisperer... and insurance stuff too"

Patient Advocate, Certified Mediator


July 13, 2023

Despite medical breakthroughs, growing numbers of survivors and a sharp decline in mortality rates, the C word still causes one of the most visceral fears in the human community. Who doesn’t breathe easier after a negative scan or exam?

Everyone knows someone batting or who fought cancer. Whether you are close to the person, or more of a friend or acquaintance, how to react, how engaged to be, or what to do to help come to mind.

The generic statement: "call me if you need help" makes us feel helpful, but how likely is the person to do so?

Even without much information, we can assume difficult days are ahead. So might emotional turmoil, financial worries and a reassessment of priorities.

As a billing manager for 6 years for a busy oncology practice, I can offer five general tips to guide you when you care enough about a cancer patient, but don't know how best to help:

1. Concrete, specific help

Propose services based on your skills, aptitudes, experience or habits. Detail what your assistance would consist of, and how extensive it would be. A good example: " I will do your grocery shopping every Saturday mornings but could not make runs during the week".

Other examples of useful services are:

· medical billing support (go through the bills, deal with the insurance, or hire a billing advocate)

· Coordinate schedule of treatments and general calendar

· Keep track of needs and match with helpers

. Start or manage a GoFundMe campaign

· Run errands,

· Prepare meals,

· Organize house cleaning sessions or tend to chores,

· Become the pet caretaker,

· Take over carpool duties, or tutoring their children,

· Volunteer as driver on treatment days,

· Take charge of gardening duties,

· Provide entertainment (books, movies, music, etc)

2. Be respectful

Because there may be aspects of your friend's journey you don't know about, avoid giving well meaning but possibly unhelpful (or even offensive) advice.

Remain respectful of the patient’s privacy and right to keep you informed as much - or as little - as she or he decides.

Your uncle Joe's cancer experience or the article on alternative treatments you just read, are only relevant if you are asked about them.

Refrain from expressing opposition or disagreement at a decision. This is not your life or health, and were you to do things differently in the same situation does not make you right presently.

3. Offer true friendship

Friendship has many meanings, but one I find very appropriate is : "non-judgmental listener and supporter". Allow a dialogue to go where it is needed, not where your agenda would like it to go.

Be aware of and adapt to your friend's mood and stress/fatigue levels, as they will fluctuate. Some times will call for humor and fun, others for reflection or inspirational words.

Be there as needed, only if as a strong shoulder for your friend to cry on. Or be the leader requires today to take their mind off things.

4. Offer neutral gifts

If you can offer general gift giving rather than personal involvement, remember that changes in sensory sensibility are common. Forget flowers with a strong fragrance, scented candles or perfumed body care items, they will be discarded. Going scent-free is the best way, or give a store credit instead.

Your preferred self-help or cancer-related books may not be welcome, but a gift certificate to any bookstore probably will.

Consider giving a gift of "escape": movie or concert tickets, a picnic at a botanical garden, a walk on the beach, a visit to a museum, a drive to a favorite place or store.

5. Be kind and understanding

Expect those: emotional and depressive mood swings, memory lapses, mental "flakiness" and last-minute changes in commitment or plans. Do not take outbursts or 11th hour cancellations personally. When body and mind undergo such an out of control roller coaster ride, there is not any better alternative than just wait for it to pass with grace and empathy.

In conclusion


Five Tips to help Someone you know has Cancer
Five Tips to help Someone you know has Cancer

caring and understanding, along with patience and kindness, are most valuable gifts.

Small gestures, coming from the heart and not from a sense of obligation, are as appreciated as large-scale gifts. Your reliable concrete help, your personal connection or your time convey the respect and compassion that every cancer patient deserves.

Martine Brousse was a long-time Billing Manager for Physicians before switching to the side of patients in 2013. The move has allowed her to apply her deep expertise and vast experience of the intricacies of resolving all types of medical bill and claim payment issues in ways that directly and positively impact her clientsʻ finances.

(424) 999 4705 - F (424) 226 1330

@martine brousse 2023

@ the medical bill whisperer 2023

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