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Friend has cancer – what to say and do

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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


  1. Acknowledge the diagnosis. Don’t pretend that it isn’t happening, even though it is petrifying.
  2. Be there for your friend. Check in with them regularly and generally be extra thoughtful towards them and their needs.
  3. Offer practical help like delivering meals for the freezer, help with childcare, ironing, food shopping, help with the school run and with household chores.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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?
  8. 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.

Useful resources

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Friend Has Cancer


Musings Of A Tired Mummy

Award-winning writer, blogger, social media consultant and charity campaigner. Social Media Manager for BritMums, the UK's largest parent blogging network Freelance clients include Firefly Communications and Save the Children UK. Works with brands on marketing projects. Examples include Visit Orlando, Give As You Live, Coca-Cola and Kodak. Cambridge Law graduate with many years experience working across three sectors in advice, media relations, events, training and project management. Available for hire at affordable rates.


  • Ashley_STW

    Thank you for writing this post. Personally the what not to say is the best advice since most of the time you don’t even realize that you’re doing it. In that case trying to help is not always helpful.
    I was a caregiver for my mom while she had cancer years ago.

  • StressedMum (@stressedmum01)

    A great post on how to be supportive and practical, my Dad had prostate cancer in remission now thankfully, and it hits you so hard. My Mum could not cope so I had to be the practical one, and we had tear but lots of laughs along the way as well

  • missfee

    This is a great post, i clicked through to the what not to say page and was appalled to realises that I had in fact said some of the things mentioned quite innocently I might add without realising I was doing it. Very helpful and supportive advise, thanks for sharing.

  • loopyloulaura

    My mother in law has had breast cancer in this year, thankfully gone now. It is so important to discuss it openly and honestly, especially in front of the children to diminish the fear. Thanks for linking up with #stayclassymama

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