If your friend or loved one was diagnosed with cancer and you want to be supportive, but are afraid you may say or do the wrong thing, you are not alone. To help with the guesswork, we have a few helpful suggestions.
1. Let your loved one know you are available for them, and then be available when they call.
2. Always call and ask permission before you drop by just in case your friend is having a bad day.
3. Offer to take your friend out to lunch.
4. Send notes. Promise to call them, and then keep the promise.
5. If your friend has kids at home, offer to take the kids for a day to do something fun. Often times, cancer patients feel a false sense of guilt because they think their family is suffering because of their illness, so doing something with their children can be especially encouraging.
6. Offer rides to doctor appointments.
7. Offer to run errands–grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, etc.
8. Don’t monopolize conversations.
9. Don’t tell horror stories of friends with cancer.
10 Don’t give medical advice or tell them to “cheer up.”
11. Don’t say, “I know how you feel.”
12. Don’t ask their prognosis. Your friend will volunteer this information on their own when they feel it is appropriate.
13. Don’t say, “If you need anything, please call .” Instead, offer to do some of the recommendations listed above.
14. Don’t visit if you are ill. Your friend’s immune system may be lower due to chemotherapy.
15. Do respect your friend’s treatment decisions, just as you would want them to respect yours.
16. If your loved one snaps at you, don’t take it personally as it could be pain and/or fear talking.
17. If on a visit your friend cries, let them cry. Tears are a normal response to what your friend is going through. Everyone responds to stress in unique ways. With a cancer diagnosis, your loved one may feel fear about the future, guilt, resentment, or depression. Often they may confess an anger with God or anger with others. Sometimes, cancer patients ask “Why me?”. They may even be in denial about the diagnosis. Remember, you are not expected to have all the answers and silence is okay. Pat their hand. Give them a hug. Let your friend talk and make eye contact.
18. Some people have a hard time accepting help and want to be as independent as possible. If your loved one turns down your offer of support, don’t take it personally. Instead send encouraging notes from time to time and, at a later date, offer again.
19. Lastly, let your friend know you are rooting for them. Sometimes just knowing there are people cheering you on is all the support a person fighting cancer needs.
When Someone You Love Has Cancer, by Cecil Murphey
Cancer Etiquette, by Rosanne Kulick
Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to know, Lori Hope
Things I wish I’d Known, Deborah Cornwall