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10 Ways to Support a Friend Diagnosed With Cancer

Posted in: Articles February 02, 2017 By Stan Gottfredson Read by 650 Users

If one of your friends has been recently diagnosed with cancer, you may feel at a loss about what you should say to them or how to offer your help. While every person suffering from a malignant condition reacts differently to their illness, the struggle is always difficult and exhausting, regardless of the type of cancer they have, the severity of their disease and their personal situation. Feeling powerless is absolutely natural when you first find out about your friend’s diagnosis. Nevertheless, supporting your friend is essential for their emotional wellbeing and your efforts will undoubtedly be appreciated. Whether you are reluctant to offer your help, have run out of ideas or simply do not know what would be appropriate to do, here are ten ways you can support your friend.

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1. Do not change your attitude towards them

You may feel tempted to treat your friend differently now so as to not offend them or make them feel worse. However, your friend will certainly notice a change in your behavior, especially if you have known each other for a long time, and this may deteriorate your relationship in multiple ways. Your friendship might not feel authentic anymore if you refrain from being yourself around them. Instead, try not to change your attitude towards them, acknowledge their diagnosis as just another aspect of their life and continue to treat them the same.

2. Offer your help and use your skills to make them feel better

It is okay if you do not exactly know how to help your friend. Simply letting your friend know you are willing to help whenever they need something and encouraging them to reach out to you is often enough. This way, they might give you some ideas on how to make them feel more comfortable and will not feel awkward to ask for your help in the future. Additionally, you can always use your skills to brighten their day. Thus, if you are good at cooking, you could prepare a meal for them (however, you should first make sure they do no have any dietary restrictions and if they do, you could probably find something appropriate) or, if you are artistically inclined, you could paint, draw or write something for them. However, if you are looking for some practical ways you can help, the following ideas might come in handy:

  • run an errand for them or their caregiver
  • pick up their prescription
  • look after your friend’s pet or child
  • clean their house once a week
  • mow their lawn
  • buy groceries for them
  • drive them to the hospital for chemotherapy sessions or other appointments

3. Listen and validate their feelings

Sometimes, all your friend may need is for someone to actively listen to them, as suffering from cancer is a tremendous emotional burden. Remind them from time to time that they can discuss anything with you. Even if you might not know what to say every time, your friend will certainly appreciate the attention and support you provide.

It is also very important to validate their feelings, regardless of whether you think their emotions are appropriate for their situation or not. While some people can accept their diagnosis easily, others will never be able to come to terms with their condition. You do not have to go to great lengths to validate your friend’s feelings, as simply empathizing with their suffering, showing compassion and assuring them that they are entitled to feel whatever emotion they might be experiencing will be enough in most cases. Nevertheless, you should never say any of the following, as your friend may feel frustrated, misunderstood or downright offended:

  • You shouldn’t worry so much!
  • I know exactly how you’re feeling.
  • I’m sure you’ll be ok.
  • How long do you have to live?

4. Do not avoid talking about sensitive topics

No matter how good of a friend you are and how much you try, you will not always be able to make them happy. Including sensitive subject such as their diagnosis or prognosis in your conversation is perfectly healthy and will benefit their mood greatly. Allowing your friend to vent is crucial for maintaining their emotional balance and mental health. However, make sure they are comfortable discussing such topics before bringing them up, as they might not be ready to express their feelings. You should permanently encourage your friend to open up but you should never pressure them.

5. Make a habit of writing them notes

It is often small gestures that make someone’s day. Another way you can show your support is by writing notes on a regular basis. You can give them directly to your friend or better yet, you could leave them somewhere in their house to be found later. As for what to write, your words could be encouraging, supportive or even funny. Inspirational quotes or letters could also be a great idea. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that people struggling with cancer have lower energy levels most of the time. Therefore, let your friend know there is no need for a response.

6. Always ask for permission before visiting them

As previously stated, people who suffer from cancer often experience low energy levels and are thus unable to concentrate or engage in conversation for extended periods of time. They may have days when they do not feel like talking with anyone due to their symptoms or because they are not in a good mood, so you should always ask if you can visit them and assure your friend that refusing or canceling your plans is perfectly okay. Never show up unannounced or express your disappointment when they do not want you to visit them. Short, regular visits are also preferable to long and infrequent ones.

7. Don’t compare your friend’s situation with someone else’s

Remember that everyone’s illness is different. Cancer refers to a wide range of malignant diseases, each with its own set of specific symptoms, particularities, and degree of severity and complexity. Moreover, there are other factors which might play a significant role in how someone diagnosed with cancer is experiencing these symptoms, such as age, overall health and how advanced their disease is. Thereby, comparing your friend’s situation with another person’s is counterproductive and will not benefit them at all. Instead, try to be understanding, empathize with how they are currently feeling and validate their emotions.

8. Make plans for the future

You might be reluctant make plans with your friend, especially if they are not feeling well, but it is, in fact, a very good idea. This way, they will have something to look forward to and they will not feel left out. Nevertheless, you should adjust your plans to your friend’s needs, choose something that is not exhausting and always be flexible in case you have to change or cancel scheduled activities. The following list includes some ideas that might be suitable for you and your friend:

  • go for a walk
  • visit a museum together
  • go to the movies or to the theater if they are not feeling too tired
  • take them out for lunch or dinner

9. Choose gifts thoughtfully

Gifts are a great way of showing your support. However, there are certain items you should avoid giving to your friend in this situation, such as flowers and perfume, as most people struggling with cancer are quite sensitive to strong smells due to their weakened immune system. Depending on how close you and your friend are, your gift can be funny, traditional, serious or more personal. Here are some gift ideas that are always appropriate, regardless of your relationship:

  • books, magazines or audio books
  • gift cards
  • their favorite movie or TV show on DVD
  • a notebook
  • a CD or a compilation of their favorite music
  • crossword puzzles
  • cozy pajamas
  • socks
  • hygiene products such as soap, body lotion or shampoo
  • a housecleaning service

10. Provide your friend with constant support throughout their journey

Probably the most important aspect of supporting your friend during their battle with cancer is to be consistent. Some people tend to overwhelm their friends with attention and care only for a few weeks or months after they hear about their diagnosis and then gradually decrease the frequency of their visits or calls. It is essential to be there for your friend throughout their entire journey and to provide them with constant support, no matter how good or bad they might be feeling. Unfortunately, cancer does not always respond to treatment and consequently, their health might be deteriorating more and more. Your friend needs you the most in these moments and being permanently by their side will mean the world to them.


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