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How to help a friend with cancer

Having a friend diagnosed with cancer is a reminder of our own mortality. Many people feel tongue-tied, not knowing how to say the “right thing.” Here are five things you can do to help a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer.

Woman writing letter


When faced with discussing uncomfortable topics, most of us have difficulty finding the right things to say. Stay away from other friends’ cancer stories or relating it to your own life experiences. Ask clarifying questions — such as about the diagnosis, prognosis or other details — when appropriate — so that you can use proper terminology during discussions later. Most important, just listen.

2Offer help

Many people will make the off-handed comment, “Let me know what I can do.” But the process of making decisions about treatment and future changes can be overwhelming, so be specific: Offer to make a meal, take her out for a manicure/pedicure or drive your friend to appointments. Find a local yoga class for people going through cancer treatments , then go with her (google: mind/body classes for cancer and your city). Offering specific types of support keeps her from having to make yet another decision about something you can do to help her.

3Be supportive of choice of cancer treatment

These days there are many treatment options for all types of cancer. You may have a friend who decides to be very aggressive with her treatment and starts right away with chemotherapy and radiation, or you may have a friend who decides to go the more alternative route with acupuncture and holistic care. These days, people often travel to other countries for treatments, and sometimes, given the diagnosis, your friend might choose to have no treatment at all for her cancer. Whatever her decision on how to treat her cancer, be supportive.

4Send a card, email or just call and leave a message

After cancer treatment, your friend might be too tired or feeling too nauseated to talk. Send a card, write an email about what is going on with you (sometimes people appreciate the “gossip”) or just leave a message letting her know you are thinking about her.

5When the person with cancer is someone you work with

If your friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer is also a co-worker, consider putting together a “meal train” with other co-workers to help with meals. Be careful about particularly fragrant foods, as some cancer patients have sensitivities to smell. Many companies allow people to donate their sick time to help out a person in need — consider donating and asking your co-workers to join in. Arrange for others to help you put together a flower delivery schedule or to send cards while your co-worker is out.

More ways to help friends with cancer

Helping friends beat breast cancer

As Amy underwent her cancer treatment and continued her recovery, she was shocked to find out that her best friend now was stricken with the same disease.

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