How to help a loved one through a life-changing illness


When a loved one is diagnosed with a life-changing or advanced illness, our first reaction is often that we want to do whatever we can to help. How do we strike the right balance between acting on our feelings of helplessness and our desire to help?

Being close to the patient means that you are perfectly positioned to know their needs so always be mindful of these when it comes to all offers of help.

When it comes to how to help a loved one dealing with a serious illness there are many things you should bear in mind.

Be a constant presence

This is very important at all stages of the journey - as a driver and support for doctors' appointments, a companion during treatment, or a friendly voice assuring them that you are there. Be present and aware but don't overwhelm: allow distance and space when you see it's needed.

Never forget that your loved one is exactly the same person, so be sure to treat them in the same way you've always done. And whatever you do, don't rush in or try to take control.

Be a silent partner

Silence is said to be golden for a reason. Our silence allows us to be better listeners. Keep in mind that each person's journey is unique and what we may have heard or read about others and their experiences may not resonate with our loved one - or it may. So, listen well and gauge (judge) which - if any - advice or feedback you might later give. Also, try not to volunteer information or offer advice unless you're asked for it.

It's the little things that count

It really is the little things that count: such as a little note, an 'I love you' message, a flower or a chocolate on a pillow before bedtime. Engage with your loved one to find out how they are coping and what might brighten their day. In this way, you'll help ease the stress and pain your loved one may be going through.

Be a window to the world

When your loved one may be struggling with their illness, his or her world narrows down to trying to adapt to life as a patient. Try to add a touch of normality with funny or intriguing diversions whenever you can. Share humorous stories, harmless gossip, news of the world outside of the bubble they may feel their illness has put them into. However, make sure you get your timing right by carefully gauging their mood; overwhelming fatigue and exhaustion may mean they aren't receptive to your efforts, no matter how well intended they are.

Be kind to yourself

While supporting and helping your loved one is top of your to-do list, be sure to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. Caregivers take major strain, so always make time for that much-needed 'me time' - take time out to reenergise yourself. You need space and distance too and by caring for your own wellbeing you will make sure that you are always in a position of strength to help your loved one.

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