How to be A Friend to Someone with Cancer

Life is truly unexpected. Who expects their friend or close family member to be diagnosed with cancer. It usually comes at us out of the blue, often when we least expect it. So, what can we do? How can we be a good friend, neighbour or relative to someone with cancer?

So often, because of our own fear or discomfort with this disease, we back off, and stay away, leaving the person with cancer not only to deal with the difficult treatment, but also reeling from the effects of being abandoned by family and friends. Most people who have had cancer will tell you stories about friends that stopped calling, or family members that made themselves scarce.

When cancer hits, what a person really needs is a support network that can help them out both physically and emotionally. You do not have to shoulder the entire burden here by yourself, but you certainly can decide what part you wish to play.

If the person who has cancer is someone you have been close with, and shared “heart to hearts” with, try to continue to be there for them emotionally. That means, inquiring gently, and letting them talk as much or as little as they want. Some people who have cancer like to talk about it and others do not. There is no one right or wrong way to go about this and it is important as a good friend, to respect the person who has cancer. Let them call the shots. Remember: this is about them, not about you!

If your relationship is more casual, or you are uncomfortable with hearing about the cancer and providing the emotional support, think of what you might do to help the person physically. This may mean doing the grocery shopping, preparing a meal, babysitting, helping with errands, or sending over a cake or casserole. So often people say, “If there is anything I can do, let me know.” They mean well, but this does get tiresome. Far better is to suggest the things you are available for, and have the person choose what suits them. Is it an afternoon outing, a meal, a drive to the doctor, or something else entirely? Not all people with cancer are comfortable asking directly for help, and sometimes we just need to figure it out as best we can.

The most important piece of advice here is to SHOW UP. In other words, be there for your friend or relative with cancer. Don’t wimp out because you are afraid, or think you can’t handle it. Ask yourself what you can do to help out your friend or relative, and do it. Show in both words and actions that you care. You have no idea how healing this can be.

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