Have you recently heard that a beloved friend has been faced with the unthinkable, a cancer diagnosis? While you are likely dealing with your own feelings of sadness in the wake of this news, you may also be faced with another feeling: uncertainty. Many individuals are not sure what they should do or say when faced with the news that someone they care about has received a cancer diagnosis. While these feelings of uncertainty may keep you from reaching out- chances are, your friend may need your companionship now more than ever. Being prepared with coping and support strategies can help you maintain and even grow your friendship during this tumultuous time.
First, take the opportunity to learn more about your friend’s diagnosis in advance of speaking with them about it. They may not want to discuss it in depth for many reasons, and preparing yourself with some independent research can help you fill in the gaps without probing them for too much information. While we all want to help and give advice; try to respect their feelings and boundaries, and focus on being supportive for the time being. Most likely, they are dealing with the emotional and psychological effects of the diagnosis, and still need time to process these feelings.
When you have opportunity to speak to your friend about their recent diagnosis, it is important to remember to be positive and supportive. With the onset of new research and cutting-edge drugs, many cancer diagnosis’ have a good prognosis, and you should approach the subject as such. Remember- just because your friend is dealing with something new does not mean that they are not the same person. Many individuals want to be treated the same as they were previously and will enjoy the same things- having dinner with friends, going to the movies, enjoying football. Treat them as such unless they indicate otherwise, and then adjust your expectation to follow their lead. If they are tired, fatigued, or do not feel well- modify your usual plans to suit these new feeling.
Some individuals have the tendency to pull away from a friend with a new cancer diagnosis, because they don’t know what to say. Chances are, your friend could use your love and support now more than ever. In fact- telling your friend that you ‘don’t know what to say’ is better than saying nothing at all. Most likely, they will appreciate your honestly and thoughtfulness no matter what. However, if you are looking for a way to start the conversation, here are a few suggestions:
• I'm sorry this has happened to you.
• If you ever feel like talking, I’m here to listen.
• How can I help?
• I care about you.
• I’m thinking about you.
Once you and your friend have settled into a familiar rhythm, you may want to suggest ways that you can stay involved as they move through treatment. Your friend most likely does not want you to set undue pressure on yourself, so make sure to make suggestions that are achievable and practical. If you do have the time, perhaps offer to drive them to/from treatment when convenient. Or, consider making an extra casserole or lasagna for them to have in the freezer when they don’t feel like cooking. Your friend may want to just maintain some normalcy in their lives, and would like to make plans for dinner and a movie in the upcoming weeks. If they have children, you could offer to babysit, provide rides, or lend a hand with homework. No matter how you get involved, make sure that it is in a way that is comfortable for both you and your friend. If you sense that they would enjoy some alone time, be respectful of that as well.
Outside of your physical presence and time, there are other ways you can contribute to your friend’s healing process. While it is unnecessary to shower your friend with gifts, there are small things that you can do that would likely be appreciated. Books, CDs, games and puzzles are all wonderful accessories to bring when faced with a long chemo treatment. Robes, small blankets, slippers and socks can also be a lovely and thoughtful gift if they get cold during or after treatment. If appropriate- practical gifts such as gift cards for a housecleaning or to a favorite restaurant can be a lifesaver for days when they are too fatigued to handle those activities.
No matter what you choose to do with or for your friend, the most important thing to remember is to continue to treat them as your friend. Most likely, they will appreciate the normalcy and camaraderie of an old friend, and will cherish the time you spend together even more. Focus on being a bright spot for them on days that may be bleak- by sharing old stories, remembering fun times, and sharing in laughter. Your friend will truly appreciate your presence and your willingness to share this journey with them.