If your friend or family member is living with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), you probably want to help. But if you don’t know what to do or say, you’re not alone. You can either let that awkwardness get in the way, or you can make a difference in your loved one’s life.

Read on for tips on how to help someone cope with the physical and emotional realities of liver cancer.

1. Talk about it

The topic of cancer can’t be ignored. When you learn that someone you care about has liver cancer, it’s reasonable to ask how they’re doing. In fact, it would be odd if you didn’t. If you really don’t know what to say, say just that and follow it up with a hug.

Once the ice is broken, ask if they’re in the mood to talk about it. If not, simply assure them that you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk.

Do

  • follow their lead when speaking about their diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis
  • encourage them to freely express their emotions
  • let them know how much they mean to you and that you sincerely want to help
  • let them end the conversation if they’ve had enough
  • look them in the eye, touch their hand, or give a hug

Don’t

  • offer platitudes, tell them they shouldn’t have negative feelings, say you know exactly how they feel, or judge their attitude
  • avoid uncomfortable topics
  • call them brave and strong, because they may not feel that way and it can put more pressure on them
  • offer medical advice or promise they’ll get better

2. Learn a bit about HCC

You don’t have to become an expert on HCC. But it might be helpful to have a basic understanding of the disease, such as:

  • the symptoms
  • typical treatments
  • side effects of treatment
  • the general outlook of the disease

This will help you get a feel for what your loved one is going through on a daily basis and what they face in the future.

3. Provide practical support

As important as emotional support is, practical support is just as important. Helping out with the day-to-day tasks we all have to do can go a long way. Every little bit counts. If you can’t take a day off from work to drive your loved one to treatment, perhaps you can offer to pick up some groceries for them on the way home. Here are a few other ideas to get you started:

  • Compile a list of local resources, such as cancer support groups, help for tasks around the house, and transportation services.
  • Offer to give other caregivers a break.
  • Offer to help with babysitting, transporting, or feeding their kids.
  • Provide transportation to medical appointments.
  • Prepare some meals you can freeze that can warmed up as needed.
  • Assist with shopping or other errands.
  • Offer to clean the house or tend the yard.

And, of course, follow through on promises. If you can’t help out, let them know as quickly as possible.

Some online resources allow you to create your own free web page where you can involve friends and family members and coordinate help. Some of these are:

4. Remember, there’s more to life than cancer

In the beginning, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with thoughts of cancer and the logistics of getting through treatment. But your loved one is more than a cancer patient.

  • Talk about things you used to talk about, such as sports, movies, or books. Have long conversations that have nothing to do with cancer.
  • Joke around. It’s OK to laugh.
  • If they’re up to it, do something that will get them out of the house, even if it’s just a short walk.
  • Call, text, or keep in touch in your usual manner. Tell them they can do the same, but it’s fine if they aren’t up for it.
  • Talk about things you’ll do together when they’re up to it. But be flexible in your planning.

5. Don’t fade away — be there for the long haul

Sometimes cancer treatment lasts a long time, and it’s exhausting for everyone involved. That’s when friends can fade away and get wrapped up in other things. Even when treatment ends, recovery takes much longer. Remember, your loved one can’t escape it, so don’t leave them feeling alone.