How to Be a Good Friend to Someone With Cancer

by Brittany McNabb

Hard times are when true friends are needed most. Many friends of people with cancer rally around their loved one and support them through their journey.  To focus on the positive side of friendships, here are some things that people can do to be a good friend to someone with cancer. 

How To Be A Good Friend To Someone With Cancer

1. Stick around when it gets tough.

Think of cancer as any other obstacle you would reach in a friendship, and stay the course instead of abandoning ship. That alone will mean more than you know.

"Don't disappear! They can treat us like they did before we got sick - our cancer doesn't define us. Laugh with us. Listen to us. Cry with us. Love us. Remember that we have interests outside of cancer." - LiveWithCancer

2. Treat them like normal.

Many WhatNexters say they just want to be treated like normal through their diagnosis. They don't want to be avoided or fawned over like they are their cancer. Here are some ways to treat them like normal

"I work with someone who is stage IV. She is always undergoing chemo, radiation, or surgery. I treat her like a normal person, but I know she doesn't feel good. When I know she's had chemo, I bring her some crackers to help with the nausea. I ask if she needs anything from the cafeteria and help out, but treating her like normal seems to work with us." - cam32505

3. Make a specific offer to help.

Do Household Chores

It is thoughtful to say, "What can I do to help?" but if you make a specific offer then it will be harder for the recipient to turn it down. You can say things like "I'd like to come over tomorrow and mow the lawn. What time is good for you?" or "I am going to the store and want to bring you groceries, text me your list."

"Offer to do something specific to help - cleaning the kitchen, doing vacuuming, grocery shopping, etc. Things that takes effort/energy that we may not have." - Phoneix76

4. Master the art of listening. 

For someone who is diagnosed with cancer, they have a lot on their mind. They want to be able to vent without being bombarded by comments. Listening is key in this friendship as well as any.

"Listening well is a skill we welcome in our friends, no judgement, no fixing the problem, sharing acceptance and understanding for a few minutes is enough." - Gumpus61

5. Call them on the phone and don't talk about cancer.

Calling to check in and ask how they feel is nice, but you can also call and update them on your life, tell them a funny thing that happened to you that day, or ask about something other than cancer. This type of conversation will be refreshing and will not pressure them to talk about cancer. 

"I would just like a phone call, to tell me what is going on in their life, like we used to talk. Treat me like you still have interest in life beyond cancer." - Estherj

6. Get them out of the house to do something fun (within their ability range).

Be A Good Listener

Being stuck in the house can make you feel isolated. Plan a fun outing like getting food, going to a movie, getting nails done, going for a walk, or just getting coffee or ice cream. Make sure they feel up to it that day but propose it no matter what.

"Take them out for food and just take the cancer patient out of the house to enjoy something!" - Lilymadeline

7. If you do talk about cancer...just ask questions and don't make any assumptions.

There seems to be a balance when talking about cancer to your friend. Try to find the balance between asking questions and letting them guide the conversation. Don't make any assumptions about their cancer or how they are feeling. Also, don't avoid talking about it completely, his can make them feel equally as awkward. You can even just acknowledge it one time and then move on to something else.

"Don't avoid the subject, but don't dwell on it either. Ask questions rather than make assumptions and just be there and try to read our needs. Sometimes that's all I wanted." - alimccalli

8. Remember what makes a good friend.

What Makes A Good Friend

[pictured above: "My friends gave me a surprise this morning, they invited me to cheer them on in a race, when I got there, they were all wearing t-shirts which said: This one is for you!" - MargeGh]

The way to be a good friend to someone with cancer is to just be a good friend. Try to remember what it means to be a true friend to anyone and what your true friends do for you...these rules apply for people with cancer as well. They want loved ones to know that they are still themselves, not contagious, and want to continue a friendship just as they always have.

"[I have ignored friends during hardships before] This is one thing I learned and will change about myself. Next time someone I know is going through anything I will no longer only send them love and good thoughts remotely, I will do something so they know. Phone calls, "thinking of you" emails/texts, listening and asking questions, gift cards for meals, remembering to include them in the fun stories of life so they don't always feel like a patient etc, will all be part of my support. That is what I have learned - what it means to be a friend and how to step up and be one in the hard times." - DebMcD

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