Your friend has cancer, and you are devastated. Should you call him or visit? The answer is yes. Many people say nothing and don’t visit when they hear about their friend’s cancer. Don’t stay away because this is difficult for you. When you are a loss for words, just say something. Sometimes “hello” or “I love you” is enough. Here are some other suggestions:
- “I’m not sure what to say, but please know how much I care.”
- “I’m so sorry that you are going through this.”
- “How are you doing?”
- “If you would like to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”
- “You’re not alone. I am here for you.” (Then follow through and really be there.)
- “You are strong. You can get through this.”
- “I love you. I’m going to [help by _____].” (Then, do it.)
Ways to Show Support
- Ask permission. Before you visit or make suggestions, be sure they will be welcome.
- Make plans. Do not be afraid to talk about the future, which will give your friend something to look forward to.
- Be flexible. Make plans that are easy to change in case they have to be rescheduled or canceled.
- Laugh together. Don’t avoid using humor or having some fun to lighten the mood.
- Allow for sadness. Don’t avoid uncomfortable topics or feelings or pretend that all is well.
- Check in. Make time for a check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling.
- Offer to help. Many people find it hard to ask for help. But your friend will probably appreciate help with specific tasks, such as taking care of a pet or preparing a meal.
- Follow through. If you commit to help, be sure that you keep your word.
- Behave the way you always do. Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. As much as possible, treat him the same way you always have.
- Talk about topics other than cancer. Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease.
- Read his blog, web page, or group emails. Some people living with cancer choose to write a blog about their experience that they can share with friends and family, or a family member will post updates to a personal web page or send a group email. Stay current with these updates so that your friend does not have to repeat the same information multiple times.
Ways to Offer Practical Help
Your help with daily tasks and chores may be exactly what your friend needs. Be creative with the help you offer. Remember that your friend’s needs may change over time, so be flexible and ready to change direction. Be sure he knows you don’t expect him to return the favor. Try to suggest specific tasks, such as the following:
- Shopping for groceries and picking up prescriptions.
- Helping with chores around the house.
- Cooking dinner and dropping it off (Ask about dietary restrictions beforehand.)
- Scheduling a night together of takeout food and movies.
- Baby-sitting for his children, taking them to and from school and activities, or arranging play dates.
- Organizing a phone chain or support team to check on your friend regularly.
- Driving him to doctors’ appointments and offering to take notes or keeping him company during a treatment.
- Going for a walk together.
- Thinking about the little things your friend enjoys and that make life “normal” for him and offering to help make these activities easier.
- Volunteering to make any difficult phone calls or gather information about different resources he may need.
Having a friend with cancer is never easy. Knowing what to say and how to behave aren’t easy either, but some simple rules apply. Be kind, be compassionate, be loving, be real. Those should help you do and say the right things.
*Sources and more information