How to Support a Friend With Cancer

“I have cancer.” When a friend or family member utters these three words to you, your mind probably reels with thoughts about them, their prognosis, and how to move forward. It’s hard to know what to say in these circumstances, but it’s important to remember what kind of relationship you have with the person and how you’ve supported each other through challenges in the past. This can serve as a guiding principle for how to deal with their diagnosis.

Here are some tips for how to support a friend with cancer.

Prepare Yourself

It may sound selfish, but before you can do everything you can for your friend, you need to prepare yourself by doing the following:

  • Work through your own emotions. If you’re scared, just imagine how your friend or family member feels. Before you see them, work through your own feelings so that you can concentrate fully on supporting your friend.
  • Learn the medical specifics. Unless you are a medical professional, the technical jargon may be foreign and confusing to you. In order to limit the number of times your friend has to tell you exactly what is going on in their body, ask someone else close to them, like a spouse or family member, to relay to you the diagnosis so you can know the kind of cancer they have and what their treatment plan is. You may want to write it down to give yourself an opportunity to process it more thoroughly . However, if there isn’t anyone close to your friend who knows the specifics, you might not want to press him or her for more information if they don’t seem comfortable with it.
  • Prioritize their mindset. What’s going through their mind? When you’re scared about something, what do you usually want to talk about? If their physical appearance starts to change, whether they are losing weight or hair, try to limit commenting on it. When you visit them, instead of greeting them with comments about how they look, simply say, “It’s so great to see you!”

woman in hospice care wearing a pink gown holding a pink breast cancer awareness ribbon

Tips When Visiting Your Friend With Cancer

Every individual is unique, but here are some simple tips to follow when supporting a friend or family member with cancer.

  • Ask first. Whether it’s stopping by for a visit or asking a question, seek permission first. Also, make it clear that it’s okay if they don’t want to answer a question or they’re not up for visitors right now.
  • Visit with them or make plans to do something together. Just because they have cancer doesn’t mean they’ve stopped living. Continue to make plans with them, like shopping trips or going out to dinner. This could give them something to look forward to and to get their mind off of treatment. Treat them how you’ve always treated them, with or without cancer, which means talking about things other than their cancer, too.
  • Be accommodating. Also know that while they might make plans with you to do something, they might suddenly feel incredibly tired or unwell due to the treatment. Allow flexibility when it comes to this.
  • Allow for all emotions. Remember, it’s okay to laugh at things—things can still be funny and that can also help with dealing with such a serious diagnosis. But also, allow for times when things can be frustrating and they might just need someone to cry to.
  • Follow up and follow through. Check in on them to see if they need help with responsibilities or tasks, and if you set up a time to do something, make sure you keep that commitment. Practical help like offering to pick up groceries or bringing over dinner or babysitting can be incredibly helpful to your friend.
  • Don’t pretend like you know what they’re going through if you haven’t had cancer. It’s important to avoid phrases like, “I know how you feel” or “I think you should do this.” Instead, say phrases like, “I’m thinking about you” or “What can I do to help you?”
  • Put together a support team. Get a group of friends together to rally around your friend and take care of them in all the above ways. Make them feel like they are never alone in this fight. Creating a meal train, coordinating child care, or helping with errands can alleviate some of the stress and pressure that comes along fulfilling responsibilities, despite cancer treatment.

Friendship makes a huge difference in the fight against cancer. Not only does it help during diagnosis and treatment but it can also help in the recovery. Your friend will need this support throughout all phases of cancer, learning how to adjust to life after cancer and navigating a new kind of normal. Take these tips with you and be the best supporter you can be during one of the most challenging times in a friend’s life. You can get through it together.

By Published On: February 5th, 2022

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