Three ways to help a family who just received a cancer diagnosis

Written by Chris Woodruff
Published on March 17, 2023

Whether you’ve walked alongside someone or faced it yourself, you know there’s never a good time or circumstance to receive a cancer diagnosis—and being the support system for someone as they navigate the disease is not for the faint of heart. For those who have taken on this role, I want to say thank you. Thank you for putting aside your own desires and agenda to be there for a family who needs you. As the leader of a nonprofit focused on strengthening families who are battling childhood cancer, I have picked up on some ways to encourage families walking through this trial. Whether you’re just now stepping into this role or you’ve been part of a support system for a while now, there are a few things to keep in mind to better cultivate hope as you walk hand in hand with them through the eye of this storm.

1. Be the hands and feet of Jesus

If you’re like me, you’ve heard the phrase, “Be the hands and feet of Jesus,” tossed around the Christian community nearly 100 times. We are often quick to say it, but slow to actually do it. To be the hands and feet of Jesus means we actively love others the way Christ loves us—sacrificially. 

Jesus displayed this in several ways, one of which was washing his disciples’ feet. After willingly washing their feet, he told them, “So if I, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 NASB).

As you care for the family in your life, there are several ways to intentionally be the hands and feet of Jesus. A few of my favorites are taking them a healthy meal, making sure the siblings have a ride wherever they need to go, and being a solid, Christian community for them. Something as simple as continuing to invite the family to be a part of what your community is doing makes such a difference, even if they say “no” a majority of the time. For a family living through cancer, knowing that people care enough to include you in the normal rhythms of life, especially as you face a trial, can be such an encouragement. 

2. Encourage honesty among parents and kids

As parents, it’s natural for us to suppress our emotions when we face hard things out of a good-natured desire to protect our kids. However, this practice ends up being more harmful than helpful. Our kids need to see our real, raw emotions to understand that it really is okay to not be okay. 

Oftentimes, it’s easy for those who are in a supportive role to practice “toxic positivity.” This is when someone puts too much pressure on maintaining a positive state throughout all situations. It’s unnatural to always be positive and happy, especially when you watch a friend or family member walk through a difficult situation. As you limit toxic positivity and open the door to honesty among your own kids, encourage the family you’re pouring into to do the same. 

As the parents begin sharing their honest thoughts and feelings with you, I encourage you to listen and direct them to biblical truth. A passage of Scripture that often comes to mind is 1 Peter 5:6-7, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, having cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares about you.” 

When we let our kids peek into how we process our feelings by laying them at the feet of Jesus, we’re giving them the tools to handle what can feel like a flood of emotions from a Chrisitian perspective. This equips them to better understand themselves and learn how to bring hard things to the Lord.

3. Pray and encourage them to lean into the Lord

Through it all, prayer is a must. As a support system, it’s essential to cover the family in prayer. The Lord hears our prayers and knows our hearts, as explained by Paul in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and pleading with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” 

Prayer is a gift that we have the opportunity to partake in, thanks to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. But sometimes it’s hard for those walking down such a dark path to find the words to pray. As a support system, it’s crucial to pray on behalf of those who may find it rather difficult themselves.

These prayers can happen within the privacy of your home or in front of those you’re praying for. Hearing people lament on your behalf is such an encouraging and humbling experience. It shows the immense care and love that binds the community of believers together. 

At the end of the day, being the support system for a family is a heavy load to carry, and it’s important you don’t carry it alone. The Lord will give you the strength you need so lean on him as you point your friends toward his guidance during this difficult time.

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Chris Woodruff

Chris is the CEO and Executive Director of Lighthouse Family Retreat, a faith-based nonprofit that strengthens families living through childhood cancer through restorative retreats and helpful resources. Chris co-hosts The Lighthouse Podcast, a weekly show that features conversations with experts in the medical field, interviews with cancer patients and their families, and practical advice for families and support systems of children with cancer. The Lighthouse Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and the Lighthouse website: Chris lives in Alpharetta, GA with his wife Jan and three kids.

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