Survival Guide: How to Support a Friend with Cancer

In a serious tone, a friend says that they need to talk. You gaze into their solemn eyes, bracing yourself for what’s next. They tell you that they have cancer. What do you say? What do you do?

If you haven’t been in this exact scenario, chances are you will face it one day. “In 2018, an estimated 1,735,350 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States(” Cancer’s reach is far and wide and its heart breaking to find out that someone you love is facing a serious disease.

You wish for a magical recipe of words is to make them feel better. In fact, you would do anything to make them feel supported and loved. But it is difficult to find the right things to say or do. You might feel helpless and lost.

Remember, the cancer is within them, but it affects you, too. It is okay to have strong emotions about the diagnosis, even if it’s not your own. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and process the information before deciding how you will help your friend. Find healthy ways to deal with these feelings, like a cancer support group. Take care of you, so that you can take care of them.

Also, research the diagnosis. This way, you are armed with some background information when you talk with your friend. Try not to prod for information from them and allow them to tell you what they feel comfortable disclosing.

When you have processed the diagnosis and educated yourself, you may feel ready to be there for your friend. You probably want to make their life happier, easier, and as painless as possible. The sad reality is that there aren’t magic words or actions that will make everything better. All you can do is your best! And even the smallest of gestures make a big impact.

How to support your friend:

  • Check-in regularly: Make a goal to check in frequently. Texting and email are good choices because it allows them to respond when they are able. It might be easy to set a certain day, like every Sunday for example, so you can remember to reach out. Of course, visits are nice but always call first.
  • Offer to tagalong: Let your friend know that you’d like to tagalong to chemo, or doctor’s appointments, or support groups to be there as a support system. Offering to tagalong it very helpful for some people, but others might not want company. Let them know that it’s okay to decline your offer.
  • Do something fun: Plan a fun activity with your friend. Take them out on the town or do one of their hobbies with them. It can even be fun to volunteer. Your friend probably would love to get their mind off of their sickness. Also, it’s fun to have something to look forward to that isn’t a doctor’s appointment.
  • Don’t assume: Maybe you’ve had cancer yourself, or know someone else who has. Each person and each case are different. Don’t assume anything about your friend and their cancer. Be open minded and flexible. Allow for laughter or tears and everything in between.
  • Offer your assistance: “Let me know if you need anything” is a nice gesture and people offer this phrase with sincerity. However, hardly anyone knows how to take people up on their offer. It helps to be specific. Ask them if they need anything from the store or if their pet needs a walk.
  • Don’t walk on eggshells: Your friend most likely would like to be treated the same as always. Your relationship doesn’t need to change into something else because of their diagnosis. Take their mind off of the seriousness of cancer by talking about the things you’ve always talked about. A good belly laugh is wonderful medicine! Have fun with your friend.
  • Get involved: With your friend by your side, or on your own, it feels good to get involved in the fight to end cancer. Getting involved with a local cancer foundation, like the Nancy Valenkamph Cancer Foundation. Call for more information on how you can get involved.
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