How to Deal with My Friend Having Cancer?

You’re not alone if you don’t know what to say or do when someone has cancer that you know. Don’t lose sight this disease is not about you, it’s about them. Most new cancer patients are in a state of shock when they initially get the diagnosis.

Sometimes it’s overwhelming to have too many people involved in the process because it’s very private, so tread lightly and choose your words carefully.

A cancer diagnosis is followed by a whirlwind of activity. Most people quickly engage in treatment while they adjust to what might be a lengthy process. They try to get on with life and generally want you to let them.

Cancer patients don’t want to be treated differently; they don’t want to have people respond in a way like they feel sorry for them. Good options to show support are things like “I’m here if you feel like talking or “I care about you” instead of “I know just how you feel or don’t worry, you’ll be OK”

Follow their lead. Some people cry, some people close down, some people are very talkative or chatty. You have to really individualize how you respond to that person. Don’t avoid a sick friend or stop calling out of fear. Sometimes just saying I don’t know what to say is better than nothing at all.

Offer support

If one of your friends is diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to find the right ways to support them. You want to be a good friend, but where do you begin? You’re afraid you might say the wrong thing, but you want to help.

Emotional pain is one of the worst side effects of cancer, and no one should face it alone. If you know someone dealing with cancer, your friendship can be a support system that helps to help avoid feelings of loneliness or exclusion.

Don’t wait for your friend to call. Make the first move. Reach out to your friend, even if you aren’t sure what to say. Most people with cancer are uncomfortable asking for help. By being proactive, you’re taking the burden off your friend and making it easier to start the conversation.

The perfect time to offer your support is as soon as possible because there truly is no ideal timing. The most genuine connections occur without preparation or rehearsal. Instead, they form by staying open and available. Contacting your friend and saying, “I’m here for you” is often enough.

It isn’t easy to be a good listener. Talking to a friend with cancer, it’s important to hold back your personal emotions. It’s okay for you to feel scared or concerned on their behalf, but keep in mind that your friend’s emotions are probably more overwhelming than your own.

Don’t commiserate, even though it feels natural to do so. If you’ve had cancer, or have other problems going on in your life, avoid bringing these up while talking to your friend.

Talk a little less

It isn’t easy to be a good listener. Talking to a friend with cancer, it’s important to hold back your personal emotions. It’s okay for you to feel scared or concerned on their behalf, but keep in mind that your friend’s emotions are probably more overwhelming than your own. 

More important than what you should say is how to listen to your friend going through cancer treatment. Be a sounding board and gauge what kind of support they may need. Let them offload about their treatment and fears and worries. The best friends do more listening in times of crisis. No advice, just space to open up.

The best thing you can do is listen and provide support. They might not need anything other than a chance to express their feelings, and all you need to do is listen.

Offer specific ways to help

If you really want to help, create a list of helpful things you can do to support them. Instead of making it her responsibility to ask, proactively suggest ways you can help. Phrases like, “let me know if you need anything,” leaves the burden on your friend to ask for help, and ultimately adds more unnecessary stress.

Be specific when you say you want to help. “l would like to walk your dog while you’re in chemo.” Offer to assist with practical tasks, like picking up groceries or medications, driving them to appointments or picking up kids. By making the suggestions yourself, your friend will feel less like they are imposing on you.

Be open

Be open to talking about their fears. If you have experience or knowledge that could help them offer it, but be aware that they may not act on it. They will be getting lots of recommendations, so sometimes your advice will fall by the wayside, but don’t take it personally.

As a friend, be mindful of their attitude about cancer. If they can’t talk about anything else but cancer, they may be stuck. It’s important for your friend to remember they are not alone.

Be Present

You’re reaching out to a friend who is likely very vulnerable. Be in the moment with them instead of thinking about the past, or worrying about the future. By staying present, you’re helping to keep each other grounded. This is a technique called Mindfulness.

Many people with cancer find that it helps to reduce painful or frightening thoughts, and improves their overall quality of life. Mindfulness helps center people by teaching them to release their focus on things that have already happened or have yet to take place. 

Many cancer centers offer mindfulness programs, which can be a great activity for you and your friend to undertake together. 

Things Not to Say to Someone with Cancer

Often when people get nervous when trying to talk to someone with cancer, they will say, well, stupid things. They are trying to be a good friend but without any idea of what is like going through this experience.

Here are some typical things cancer patients say they hear:

  • “You don’t look like you’ve got cancer. Why have you got hair? Didn’t you have chemo?”
    • Not everyone who gets chemotherapy loses their hair. And often there are no outside signs they have cancer, especially in the early stages.
  • “I know someone who had cancer, my uncle had cancer, but he died”
    • They will already be incredibly aware of their own mortality and know that their cancer could become terminal and a lot of people die of cancer. Having a reminder in conversation is NOT a good idea.
  • “Stay positive.”
    • You should know a cancer patient can’t be positive all the time and will have down days.
  • “You’re an inspiration.”
    • It comes from a good place with people when they say “you’re an inspiration or your brave. They admire the resilience of their friend and the ability to go for treatment. However, it’s not about being brave or an inspiration, a cancer patient is given a treatment plan and has to follow. They are going through the treatment is they need to stay alive.
  • “If you’re going to get cancer, it’s one of the best to get.”
    • There is no “best cancer.” Your friend will only know the cancer they have and will have to suffer through the treatment.

These are a few of the things to keep in mind when dealing with cancer’s effect on your friendship. We hope this information will help you help your friend. Cancer is a difficult thing to go through and if you are a true friend, you should do your best to support them without adding to their stress.

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