So, you’ve found out that your friend has cancer and you have absolutely no idea what to do or say. Don’t worry, that is perfectly natural and to give you a little help here are some tips…
What not to do when your friend has cancer
- Don’t ignore the big C. You have to acknowledge the diagnosis. You can’t ignore it or pretend that it isn’t happening or that your friend doesn’t have cancer.
- Don’t treat your friend/family member differently. Just because he/she has been diagnosed with cancer doesn’t mean that you should treat them differently. Yes, you’ll need to be more considerate and check in with them more than usual, but remember that behind the cancer diagnosis they are still the same person they were before cancer.
- Don’t start a sentence with “at least….” It’s natural to want to say something to try and make everything seem less scary. But saying “at least….” is just minimising what they are going through. Unfortunately it’s scary, there’s no way around it.
- What not to say? For more advice on what not to say to a cancer patient, take a look at my previous article on this blog.
Things that do help
- Acknowledge the diagnosis. Don’t pretend that it isn’t happening, even though it is petrifying.
- Be there for your friend. Check in with them regularly and generally be extra thoughtful towards them and their needs.
- Offer practical help like delivering meals for the freezer, help with childcare, ironing, food shopping, help with the school run and with household chores.
- Offer to take them to their hospital appointments. It can really help to have someone in an appointment who can take a note of what the doctors say, and also to drive the patient to and from the hospital.
- Visit and keep in touch. You can send a card or letter with eloquently written messages of support – but if you struggle with that sort of thing then all you need to do is to send a quick text to say you’re thinking of them (every now and again throughout their treatment). I promise it will mean the world to them.
- You don’t need to buy a gift or flowers, but sometimes a little gift is a good way to show that you care. It doesn’t have to be anything expensive – what about a book from your bookshelf that you’ve loved and which might provide some distraction during their cancer treatment? Or those magazines you’ve been planning to take to the recycling – they might be the perfect thing for your friend!
- How about planning some nice things to do with your friend? What about going for a walk, taking lunch to them, going out for a coffee, delivering afternoon tea to them?
- Understand that cancer is more than a tumour. Cancer can play havoc with emotions and it’s important to understand that your friend might go through some emotionally tough times during treatment and after treatment has finished when they are trying to move on with their life.
- Visit www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com and read Ticking Off Breast Cancer, the book for lots more ideas of how to help someone who is going through cancer treatment, including gift ideas, ways to give practical help and emotional support. Both the website and book will give you an insight into what your friend or family member is going through during their cancer treatment, which might in turn help you to know what to say and do to help them.
- Be there for them every step of the way.
Sara is the author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer, a book about juggling life with treatment for primary breast cancer at the age of forty-two. This book follows the physical and emotional impact of breast cancer on Sara’s life, and provides practical help by way of checklists at the end of each chapter. The book is out 26 September 2019 but you can pre-order the book now from Hashtag Press and Amazon. Sara is also the founder of www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com, a website dedicated to helping people through their breast cancer treatment and their friends and family. It’s a website supporting those who do not know which way to turn for help after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis; those who are overwhelmed by the breast cancer resources online and those just looking for a comfortable, safe, calm place to turn for help. Follow her on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.