Supporting 15-39 year olds with cancer

Supporting 15-39 year olds with cancer

The disease occurs at a particularly critical time in the lives of young people 15-39 years old. They will have to endure many physiological and psychological changes at a time of their lives when they are still in search of identity, autonomy, and establishing intimate relationships
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Having to give up studies during treatment, being hospitalized in an environment where they are outnumbered by elderly people and being removed from their friends: these are all reasons that can contribute to the creation of a deep sense of isolation among young people with cancer. They now have to rely on the support of friends and family, and some will have to move back in with their parents.

As a friend or relative, you can make a difference. Find the right words, do the right things, respect the silences. Your supportive role is very important and requires you to be well informed, because cancer is a complex disease that everyone reacts to differently.

Tips on offering support

There are no quick or infallible rules or easy-to-follow steps for supporting a young person living with cancer. But the following tips may help you, whether as a relative, friend, or loved one, to offer them the support they need.

Be yourself

  • Be open and frank.
  • Openly discuss where the person with cancer wants you to be in their journey.
  • Agree to talk about their future plans (there is life during and after cancer).

Respect :

  • their privacy, especially during periods of hospitalization. Despite good intentions, some people can do “too much”
  • their energy level;
  • how they decide to live each moment;
  • your commitments;
  • their confidentiality, it’s up to them to choose who should know or not;
  • their emotions, accept to see them cry, smile and laugh, accept their fears and anxieties;
  • their need for autonomy, just as you would do normally.

How best to support a person with cancer?

  • Give them concrete help by offering choices, because they don’t always know what they are entitled to ask for. And don’t be surprised if their needs change from day to day.
  • Pay them lots of small attentions.
  • Don’t hesitate to show them signs of affection. Physical contact can help them feel appreciated beyond words.
  • Offer them a ride or accompany them to their treatment.
  • Go and visit them at home or in hospital. If possible, and if they wish, spend the night with them at the hospital or their accommodation.
  • Arrange or  party with them whenever possible.
  • Invite them to a group meal.
  • Keep in touch (by phone, email, text message, Zoom, FaceTime, etc.).
  • Help them to find reliable resources: sources of information, community organizations, support groups.
  • Get informations: Info-Cancer Library – Youth Collection, 1-800-363-0063.
  • In short, be a part of their support team.

Be open


  • Express yourself when you are sad; relatives, loved ones and professionals are the best ones to discuss your anxiety with.
  • Make sure you understand them and are understood as much as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings or misinterpretations.
  • Leave room for others to provide needed support.
  • If they move back in with their parents, discuss the rules to be respected on both sides.

Too much is as bad as not enough

Sometimes the support we offer to young adults with cancer doesn’t help as much as we might think. It’s important to consider our words and our actions carefully; they can be awkward, even when motivated by good intentions.

Here are some examples of behaviour to avoid.

  • Doubting the efficacy of treatment or expressing your lack of confidence in the medical team.
  • Interfering in any way in the treatment or medication recommended by the nursing staff.
  • Imposing models to follow, such as saying “hang in there” and “just be positive all the time.”
  • Cutting ties because you don’t know what to say or do.
  • Minimizing or denying cancer.
  • Telling bad jokes or depressing anecdotes.

The Quebec Cancer Foundation is here for you

To help you support the young adults in your life who are dealing with cancer, the Quebec Cancer Foundation offers you its Programme à Félix. On the program’s portal, you will find a wealth of useful information for both young people with cancer and their loved ones: (available in French only).

We have also developed the brochure Quoi dire? Quoi faire? Guide pour les proches d’un 15-39 ans atteint de cancer (in French only), which provides a general portrait of cancer in 15-39 year olds and suggests the way to a range of services developed for individual needs.

Find out about our services for young adults with cancer at 1-800-363-0063.


Need information, a listening ear, resources and to share?
Our Info-cancer staff is there to:

  • Answer your questions;
  • Refer you to resources in your area;
  • Provide you with useful documentation;
  • Put you in touch with someone who has gone through the same ordeal, whether you or a loved one.

Borrow one or more books on the subject for free:

Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm
1-800-363-0063 (free of charge)  |

Being a care giver


Balancing work and support for a family member

Balancing your job and your role as caregiver for a person with cancer can be a real challenge. Sometimes you need to reduce your work hours or even quit your job to dedicate yourself full time to the person affected by the illness

Taking care of yourself as a caregiver

When you are a caregiver, it’s easy to devote yourself entirely to taking care of the sick person. Our concern over the health of the other person can make us forget we should also be paying attention to our own. You still have a large number of personal, family and work-related tasks and responsibilities in addition to those of the patient

Supporting a work colleague with cancer

You work alongside a colleague who has just received a diagnosis of cancer, who is continuing to work during treatment or who has just returned to work. You're probably wondering how to relate to them

Supporting a love one with cancer

A loved one has cancer and you want to support them in their ordeal? There is no model or recipe to follow. The answer is actually quite simple: be attentive and show that you are here for them. Whatever help you can give will be invaluable