With the increasing prevalence of cancer diagnosis, it’s becomes more likely that we will all be faced (at least one in our lives) with the reality that someone close to us has been diagnosed with cancer. It’s not always apparent what to do, or how to be a helpful and supportive friend to someone who is facing a diagnosis or dealing with consuming, painful and exhausting treatments. Here are some suggestions to keep in mind when someone close is facing a cancer diagnosis.
To begin with, refrain from offering advice, suggestions, stories of other people or any other conversations that may put you in the position of coming off like you think you are an expert (unless you really are a medical expert, and even that is dicey with friends). The best thing you can do is listen, and provide a nonjudgmental ear. Being there to lend a shoulder, keep company and provide comfortable conversation is important.
Respect your friend’s personality and desires. Some people will want to have others rally around them while they are dealing with a cancer diagnosis, while others will want some time to process on their own. If your friend is one of the latter people, offer reassurance and let her know you are nearby, without being to visible and interfering in her process.
Helping with household tasks, running errands, and taking care of details can be a huge help to someone who is dealing with such a life-changing event as cancer is. The trick is to be a help and not a hindrance. Offer to do grocery shopping or pick the kids up from school on a regular basis, step in to take over mowing the lawn and yard work, offer transportation to appointments. All of these are ways you can be helpful. When a friend of mine was battling with cancer, some of us organized a gift certificate basket (this is a great idea for a church group or co-workers) – purchase and put together a bunch of gift certificates to local restaurants who offer delivery and take-out, as well as dining in. Make sure you have a variety. This way, meals can be brought in or a trip to a local restaurant is easy to manage on a moment’s notice – without having to be concerned about the expense.
Finances become burdensome for most people who are dealing with cancer – even with great health insurance, there is still lost work time and other expenses. Tactfully offering a gift basket, a pair of tickets to a show or ballet, gift certificates for video rentals, or even stepping in secretly to pay utility or other regular bills can be a fantastic way to help. Of course, you’ll need to gauge your friend and come up with the most tactful and non-insulting way to help.
Remember to include a friend who is dealing with cancer in social plans and activities, but understand if they feel unable to participate. When one of our friends was diagnosed and going through chemo and treatments, I would invite the couple over for leisurely dinners a couple times a month. I always called the spouse in advance and asked for menu suggestions and we would work it out together – depending on what the other’s appetite was like. If they had to cancel at the last minute, I didn’t take it personally, but would often run over the dish to their house instead. While you may have gone hiking or golfing in the past, maybe having a barbecue and playing board games might be more in order. Regardless, continue to do fun things and include your friend in activities.
The important thing to remember is to take cues from your friend, be available and willing to be flexible to help meet changing needs, and try to be positive, supportive and encouraging (without being overwhelmingly perky, of course!) You will find that just being present and caring will make a huge difference in how the both of you feel as your friend deals with cancer.