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When a friend has cancer

Sarah Kelsey is a lifestyle writer, editor and spokesperson based in Toronto. She was the editor of AOL/The Huffington Post Canada’s StyleList, Style and Living sites. Today, she's a freelancer writing for some of North America’s top pub...

Cancer and friendship

If you have a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer, you're probably wondering how you can help. Here are some practical tips to help you support her through her illness.


After diagnosis:

Listen

The most important thing you can do for a friend who's just been diagnosed with cancer is to listen to her concerns or fears. Let her talk. Encourage her to share her feelings, but never pressure her. She will share information with you when she's ready.

 

Stay positive

Cancer is not the death sentence it once was. Medical advances have made treatment easier and a cure (or at least remission) more likely. And while acknowledging the seriousness of the situation is important, remaining positive could help boost your friend's mood. Emotional strength and a positive outlook are important in battling the disease.

 

Give space

Supporting your friend is important, but being overly concerned or constantly in his face can be frustrating and overwhelming. Learn to give your friend the space he needs. Make plans for future get-togethers, but be flexible if he wants to cancel. Schedule weekly phone chats. Your friend will come to you when he's ready.

 

During treatment

Undergoing treatment for cancer is both physically exhausting and emotionally draining. Be creative with how you help a friend through the therapy. Some of the best suggestions are the most practical:

  • Offer to shop for groceries or grab prescriptions
  • Help with chores around the house
  • Do your friend's yard work
  • Take out the garbage or recycling
  • Babysit children or take them to after-school activities
  • Tag along for your friend's appointments
  • Make (and freeze) meals for your friend and her family
  • Take care of your friend's pets
  • Go for a walk with your friend
  • Take a class together
  • Gather the latest information on the disease and give it to your friend in a binder/care package

Living with the disease

Stay supportive

Once treatment is over, stay supportive for your friend. Chemotherapy can have irreversible effects on a person's physical and mental well-being. Staying close will help your friend get through the healing process.

 

Listen to her fears

If your friend's cancer has gone into remission, she may develop fears about its recurrence. This is natural. Listen to her concerns. Don't dismiss them. Help gather information on the condition so she can learn to cope.

 

Say "yes"

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing event; the way your friend views life post-treatment is bound to change. Encourage him to seize the day. Gently nudge him to try new things (or things he never would have dared before) and go along for the ride. Watch for signs of depression, which is common in cancer patients post-treatment. If your friend seems moody, distant or uninterested in moving forward with his life, chat with him about seeking professional help.

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