My last post was a reminder about why we need balance in our lives. The timing is unexpectedly appropriate, because I’ve just been hit hard with another reason to treat life as precious: My brother has cancer.

Familiar feelings of helplessness are compounded by the fact that Don is miles away, so I’m looking for ideas for ways to be supportive from a distance. The last time I wrote about this, after losing a friend to inflammatory breast cancer, I found these suggestions:

Look for community support groups. Wellspring is one resource in many Canadian cities that offers workshops, a lending library and a quiet place to meet with other patients and family members. The one near me has sessions coming up that deal with coping skills, stress management and exercise. Is there something similar in the U.S.?

Go online and get informed. One of the first places to look is a reputable organization like the Canadian Cancer Society and the American Cancer Society. Both have programs to help patients and family members manage treatment and recovery and find emotional support. I see that CCS has a peer support service that matches you with someone in a similar situation; call 1-888-939-3333 or email info AT

Get involved, if your friend wants you to. If you’re local, you might drive your friend to appointments, or keep him/her company during chemo delivery. Here’s where I really wish I lived nearby!

Offer practical help, and be specific. As my friend Les Potter said last time, “Cancer patients need solid, constructive help, not vague offers.” So ask when rather than if, and offer something – housekeeping, meals, laundry, shopping, walking the dog. I am trying to figure out how to do this from a distance.

Stay in touch. The treatment cycle is long, and people can feel awkward about checking in because we don’t know what to say. Randomly send an email or a card even if it’s just to say, “I’m thinking about you.”

Be a great listener. As my friend Sara Taylor said last time, “To be quiet and a pair of ears is invaluable – sometimes people just need to share without receiving any advice or information in return.”

Bring a sense of normalcy to the person’s life. This is another suggestion from Sara: “Carry on with the activities you love to do together and as a group. By continuing with the more regular things, it can be reassuring to have some routine when so much of the person’s life is feeling out of their control.”

Don’t be afraid to talk about the hard stuff. My friend Sue Ridewood said,  “Many people want to talk about being scared, about death, about pain – and they often don’t want to burden their family with their fears. Acknowledging the elephant in the room is often one of the best favours you can do for your friend.”

Laugh. My friend Barb Sawyers suggested, “Try to make your friend laugh. There’s no better distraction, even if it’s only fleeting.”

What else can you suggest to support someone dealing with cancer, especially from a distance? Please share in the comments. And apologies if you stopped by earlier and saw this post in progress; I hit ‘publish’ by mistake.