Everyone deals with crisis differently, and hearing “cancer” is an immediate crisis. As a loved one, you want to rush to their side, hold their hand and tell them everything is going to be fine. But not everyone wants to hear that – and not everyone even wants company when they’re coping. So, what can you do?

My best advice is to ask how your loved one would like support, and know they may not be completely truthful. You may have to be patient or even impulsive. You will have to be creative. In honor of how old I was at my diagnosis, I’ve compiled 35 ways to show your support for a loved one battling cancer: 17 to do immediately (below) and next month, I’ll share 18 things you can do when your friend is halfway through treatment and everyone else has stopped showing up. (Because it happens — and oh yes, we will talk about that, too!)

At diagnosis:

  1. Try every means of communicating your support to see what seems to help the most: phone calls, cards, texts, emails, carrier pigeon (OK not this one because I’m all about the immune system and – just no). The journey we’re on means no two days are exactly the same. We feel nauseous, we feel exhausted, we feel bitter, we feel hopeful. You never know when your outreach will come at exactly the right time.
  2. Offer to drive your loved one to chemo.
  3. Offer to stay with her during treatment – and promise only to talk if she does.
  4. Pick up a copy of your favorite funny book and tuck it in her purse when you see her — and make a point to see her.
  5. Collaborate with a group of friends to order a blanket covered with your smiling, happy faces at events she will remember fondly and with a chuckle.
  6. Find soft socks with vibrant designs. Because my feet were always cold and those hospital socks are just so clinical!
  7. Schedule meals for her family using a site like mealtrain.com or signupgenius.com. This was so helpful to my family as cooking dinner for everyone was one last thing they had to worry about it.  
  8. Put a cooler outside her door with a note: “I may be too tired to answer the door but I love you for stopping by!” Trust me when I say some days, I just wanted no contact with the outside world. Plus, my appetite came and went (mostly went), so conjuring up a genuine enthusiasm for a flavorful dish meant adding “actress” to my survival skills.
  9. Loan your entire season of [insert Netflix binge session here].
  10. Make a “keep your chin up” book using pictures of friends and loved ones with messages from each. Keep it small, so she can tuck it into her bag for chemo or keep by her bedside at home
  11. Fill a beautiful jar or box with little notes to lift her spirits. Every time she needs a boost, she will see your handwriting and encouraging words. (Toss in a few private jokes or funny memories, like “remember that time…”!)
  12. Shave your head in solidarity. OK, maybe not — and no, we really don’t expect you to because you have awesome hair and it’s bad enough I had to lose mine! But what about having a hat or scarf party/girls’ night out? Everyone brings one beautiful scarf to gift her.
  13. Create a coupon for talk-free time together. You may have heard the term “chemo brain,” where a patient is just too exhausted and drained to make decisions or conversation. This handmade coupon will promise time spent together without any expectation of conversation. (But don’t promise that you won’t make funny faces occasionally.)
  14. Offer to go with her to doctor’s appointments – with a notebook in hand so you can take notes while she listens. I was lucky, I had my sister and mom for this. They never once let me go alone. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
  15. Find something small that she can keep in her pocket or purse as a lucky charm, whether it’s a stone from your favorite hiking spot or be creative with a standard pink, rectangular eraser that you can write on with Sharpie: “Erase stress!”
  16. Find small comforts she can bring to treatments: a neck pillow, a soft blanket, a lotion she loves (ask for her favorite first – sometimes smells can be too strong).
  17. Hug her gently, love her warmly and celebrate her daily.

Next month: 18 ways to support your friend when she is halfway through treatment and everyone else has stopped showing up. (We tell the truth around here 😉 )