You probably didn't know what to say when your friend told you the news. I'm sorry? Don't worry, you'll be fine? How can I help?
No matter what you say, it can sound hollow and meaningless when you're looking your friend in the eye. Meanwhile, you're going through your own feelings of shock, fear, and anxiety, yet you want to be there for this person who means so much to you.
It should be easy to help, but most times, it's anything but easy.
I remember when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 16 years old, most of my friends had no idea what to do or say. Looking back, I can understand how they felt. How were they to know what I would think was helpful, and what I would feel was intrusive or out of place?
Unfortunately, what often ends up happening is that friends feel uncomfortable and unsure how to handle the situation, so they just don't. They disappear from your life for awhile. And that's the worst outcome, right?
If at all possible, don't abandon your friend. Of course, you have to take care of yourself, and you have to know your limits. Your past experiences may make some parts of the process harder than others. That's okay. There are many, many ways to help a friend with cancer.
Here are just a few. Pick the ones that work for you, and trust me, your friend will be grateful! Better yet, you'll feel good knowing that you're doing something, which always feels better than doing nothing simply because you don't know what to do.
10 Ways to Help a Friend Who Has Cancer:
Think about your friendship, and let that guide you. If this is the type of friend that is regularly at your house and vice-versa, you'll have more leeway than if this is a work colleague or a friend of the family. Follow your intuition to decide what's best.
Regardless of the type of cancer or the type of friend, food is always a good idea. Your friend and his family will need to eat, and preparing meals will probably be the last thing on his list. You may also just do some basic grocery shopping to help stock the cupboards for when your friend doesn't feel like doing it himself.
One of the biggest things that can trip you up is not knowing what to say. That's all right. Tell your friend you don't know what to say, but offer to listen. Resist the urge to be overly positive and act like everything's fine.
What your friend really needs is someone to empathize with how she's feeling in the moment. Concentrate on being reflective, with statements like, "It sounds like you're feeling scared. I can see why you'd feel like that." If you can hear both the good and the bad, you'll be a cherished friend.
3. Stay consistent
If you normally take your pal out to lunch, continue to invite her. Offer to bring lunch to her house if she's not up to going out. If you typically watch the game together, don't stop. Continue to invite your buddy over, or offer to host the game at his den. Your friend will appreciate knowing that you still value their company, sick or not.
If your friend has children or pets, offer to watch them when needed. This can be a huge help if your friend has to travel for treatments, or just needs a weekend off.
Providing ongoing updates and thank you notes to family and friends can be a giant task for someone living with cancer. Offer to pick up the slack with regular emails, a specific Facebook page, or even with handwritten notes. This can be a giant help to someone with waning energy.
6. Pitch in
If you're comfortable in your friend's house and she is comfortable with you there, consider pitching in with the laundry, housecleaning, or yard work. If you sense that your friend would prefer to be asked, say something specific, like, "You know, I'd love to do a load of laundry for you. What do you have that I could throw in the washer?" This will usually work better than, "What can I do to help?"
7. Provide distraction
Sometimes what your friend needs is to get his mind off the cancer. Consider taking him to a movie, bringing over some board games, going to the park, or doing something else you know he'll enjoy.
Cancer treatments often involve medications that make it dangerous for your friend to drive. Chemotherapy can also mean long hours in the hospital alone. A friend that can take the keys and provide some needed company can be a godsend.
It's no secret that for many people, cancer can wipe them out, financially. It all depends on the type of cancer and the cost of treatment, as well as the insurance company, but I've known many survivors who lost their jobs and their houses.
If you're able and want to, find ways to pitch in financially. That may mean organizing a fund-raising website or event in your community, or simply providing your friend with a gift card to the grocery store, gas station, or to the place where they buy their prescriptions.
10. Don't give up.
Your friend is going to have good and bad days. During the bad days, she may snap at you or say something that seems unkind or thoughtless. Don't give up. Try again with something new, like lunch or a book by her favorite author, and let it go.
Remember that sometimes the cancer can mess with people's spirits, but every kind deed comes back to you ten-fold.