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What to Do When Your Friend Has Cancer

Posted by Johnson Memorial Health on Feb 11, 2018

The news devastates you, too.

When you learn that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer, you are not sure what to do. You may not know how to help, let alone what to say.

You may not realize it initially, but your role as a friend is very important. According to the American Cancer Society, studies have shown that cancer patients who have a strong support system tend to deal better with treatments and lead a more positive quality of life.

Your presence and your connection provide a sense of comfort during a period of emotional uncertainty and physical challenges. That is especially true long after the initial diagnosis, when well-meaning acquaintances offer to help but later go on with their lives. It’s those weeks after the start of treatment when your friend will need you the most.


Here are some ways you can help your friend who has cancer:

Set up regular visits. Cancer patients are looking for normalcy in their lives – something a friend can provide. Help your friend focus on whatever brings out good feelings, such as sports, religion, travel or pets. Watch a movie or read a book together. Make certain your friend doesn’t feel pressure about entertaining you. Call ahead before visiting – to make certain your friend feels well enough to see you.

Set up a phone team that calls regularly. A brief phone call can be very meaningful. It’s helpful to know someone cares. Your team of callers can take turns each day – and report back to others. That way, your friend isn’t inundated with calls and repeating their updates (especially on difficult days).

Offer to help with tasks. Cancer treatments require a lot energy. Going to the store can be a challenge. You can help by making the grocery run. Maybe your friend is obsessing about a dirty front door window or getting the oil changed in the car. Taking care of those errands can make your friend feel a little more productive.

Organize a project team. If you know your friend was working on a home project or planning one, maybe you and others can make it happen. Get a group together to take care of some house repairs or landscaping on a Saturday.

Surprise your friend with a small gift. Since cancer treatments often have side effects, your friend might not be able to go to lunch or dinner. Instead, buy simple gift like silk pajamas, silly socks, pictures or a CD of favorite music.

Offer to drive your friend to a doctor’s appointment. Going to a treatment or a physician’s visit can be difficult. Give family members a break and offer to take your friend. Share some special time together during the drive.

Doing something special for the caregivers. Cancer patients worry about their family and other caregivers. They sometimes feel guilty about the disruption their disease is causing. Maybe you can relieve the caregivers so that they can have some time off or go out for dinner. You also can give them your cell phone number to call if they need to talk, no matter the time of day.

Listen. Take cues from your friend about the nature of your conversations. Sometimes, your friend will want to laugh at neighborhood gossip. Sometimes, your friend may want to talk deeply about the fears of having cancer. You don’t have to provide answers. A compassionate ear is all your friend might need.

You also can encourage your friend to join a support group (you can attend as well). More information is available from Johnson Memorial’s Cancer Care Center at 317.736.3346. 

Topics: Cancer