My Uncle has cancer: how to support him and make a difference

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Discover practical ways to support your uncle battling cancer and learn how your presence and assistance can bring comfort and strength during this difficult time. Find valuable insights and actionable tips to make a positive impact on your uncle's journey.

My uncle is dying of cancer - painting of elephant and dog holding a heart shaped balloon

My uncle is dying of cancer

“What can I do? My uncle has cancer. My uncle is dying of cancer?” Here are five useful tips – from a niece who’s been through it – on how to help your uncle who is dying from cancer.

Did you know that your friends and family are all secret magicians? That they can disappear or materialize at the incantation of one single word?

The magic word?

It’s not abracadabra.

It’s cancer.

I’ll admit I was one of those so-called magicians. Last summer, my Uncle Kenny received the news that no one expected: his chemo pill was no longer working. He could either choose intravenous chemo or let the disease take its course. He chose the latter.

I might not have done a complete disappearing act, but once I head that my uncle has cancer, I discovered I could suddenly make excuses appear at the drop of a hat. I couldn’t come to visit because I had to work (exaggeration). I’d try to make it up to visit as soon as possible (probably not).

This wasn’t the first bout of awkwardness I’d experienced with my uncle.

A helicopter engineer in the army, he’d been deployed more than his fair share of Thanksgivings and Christmases. I remember dreading my turn to talk to him when the phone was passed around at holiday celebrations–the one opportunity we had to cheer him up while he was away.

My civilian brain never knew the right thing to say. I’d wish him a Merry Christmas, and he’d remind me it wasn’t very merry for him. I’d tell him I was looking forward to his visit home at New Year’s, and he’d bark at me for revealing classified information on an unsecured line.

After my uncle’s cancer diagnosis, I felt even more awkward. I knew even less of what to say. Though he’d been stateside for years, I felt the same uncomfortable silences I’d felt on the phone at all those holidays. But the crazy thing that I realized was: that it was okay.

Cancer is awkward and angry and weird and unfair. Yet, it’s important to feel those feelings and still show up daily.

Five nuggets of advice: what to do when your uncle is dying of cancer

Even though my uncle is dying of cancer, luckily, I realized all this in enough time to spend the last week of my uncle’s life with him. I don’t have a manual to help you get through visits with your own loved one. But I can offer a few nuggets of advice, from my experience, that might convince you to head to the hospital a few more times, or hang around a bedside just a few minutes longer.

Understanding the Journey

My Uncle Has Cancer: Acknowledging the Challenge

"What can I do? My uncle is dying of cancer?" This question echoes through the hearts of many who witness their loved ones battle this relentless disease. As a niece who has experienced my uncle's cancer journey firsthand, I understand the complexities and uncertainties that arise. In this section, I'll share personal insights, including impactful quotes, to guide you in supporting your uncle during this challenging time.

Being There, Every Step of the Way

My Uncle Is Dying of Cancer: Sometimes All You Need Is Your Uncle

"Showing up isn’t just the best thing to do: it’s the only thing you can do." These powerful words resonate deeply when your uncle is fighting cancer. Like a secret magician, your presence can provide immeasurable comfort and strength. Despite feeling unsure or awkward, remember that your support means the world. Spend quality time together, engage in activities that bring joy, and create cherished memories. Even amidst the complexities of cancer, being there matters the most.

 (Though you may want to keep your stories shorter and sweeter from now on; your loved one actually doesn’t have to the end of eternity to listen to your saga on your gripes about the carpool lane.)

Practical Assistance and Emotional Support

How Can I Help? Practical Steps for Support

"It’s not you, it’s cancer." When your uncle's emotions fluctuate, don't take it personally. Recognize that cancer brings forth a whirlwind of emotions. Be patient, understanding, and compassionate. While you can't cure cancer or alleviate all the challenges it presents, you can offer practical assistance. Accompany your uncle to medical appointments, lend a helping hand with household chores or daily tasks, and provide a listening ear. These gestures can ease his burdens and show that you genuinely care.

"Dealing with my uncle dying from cancer was a way to connect with my own fears around dying."

Navigating the Awkwardness

Embracing the Uncomfortable Conversations

"Get ready to hunker down because the only thing you can guarantee with the big C is that things are going to get weird." 

Cancer elicits awkwardness, anger, and uncertainty. Embrace the discomfort and allow yourself to navigate through it. Remember, it's not about having all the right words to say; it's about being present and willing to listen. Share your genuine feelings and concerns, even if they might not have immediate solutions. By acknowledging the awkwardness, you create space for authentic connections.

Individual Journey, Individual Choices

Supporting Your Uncle: Follow Your Own Path

"Don’t follow everyone else. Do what feels right for you." 

Each person's cancer journey is unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to offering support. Resist the temptation to compare your actions with others. Trust your instincts and make choices that align with your values and connect with your uncle. Whether it's spending more time at the hospital, adjusting the length of your visits, or finding creative ways to show love, follow your heart.

Love Extends Beyond the Patient

"It’s not just about the patient." 

While your uncle battles cancer, remember that other family members also need support. Acknowledge the needs of your aunt, father, sister, cousins, and even yourself. Cancer serves as a reminder of our own fears and mortality. Being present for one another strengthens the bonds that transcend life's challenges. You can navigate this journey together, providing comfort, love, and solace.

In summary, as you face the reality of your uncle dying from cancer, remember that your presence and support are invaluable. Embrace the challenges, offer practical assistance, and be there to listen. Trust your instincts and make choices that resonate with you. By extending love and understanding to your uncle and your family, you create a profound impact during this difficult time.

Article by
Alicia Mayberry

Alicia B. Mayberry, the author of "My Uncle has cancer: how to support him and make a difference," a female writer residing in Texas, defies challenges posed by autism, anxiety, depression, and an auto-immune condition. While working as a primary school teacher, she embraces her passion for writing, recently delving into the realms of short stories and personal essays.


"I might not have done a complete disappearing act, but once I head that my uncle has cancer, I discovered I could suddenly make excuses appear at the drop of a hat." | ©Photobank / Adobe Stock