This is a tough question since there are so many variables, such as how close is the emotional relationship, what are the patient’s physical capabilities, are you looking to find medical or financial help, how does the patient feel about being helped, etc.
If the relationship is a close one, staying in touch often can be a real morale booster. Not phone calls which ask ‘how are you doing?” but calls you might have had before the diagnosis. If the patient needs someone to share their feelings with (emotional or physical) they will bring it up.
If the patient needs some financial help, sending a gift card which can be used any store taking the major credit cards might be appreciated. If you have a local contact of the patient’s you might arrange for a one time cleaning service. Or you might be able to arrange for a free cleaning service from some charitable organization, or someone to take them to and from appointments.
If you are trying to help them explore treatment options and they are able to interact on the internet, this site as well as CSN are good places to introduce them to. There are lots of folks at each who are more than willing to greet with open arms someone who is traveling the cancer road, help them by relating their own experiences and over the emotional hurdles.
Helping the patient hook up to the resources available to them locally is always good, whether it is the American Cancer Society, support groups, or charitable service groups.
These are just a few ideas which come to mind. Helping from a distance is difficult but not impossible. Letting the patient know that they are thought of and that you want to help are key to figuring out the right things for their circumstances.