You’ve got a friend in me: how to help someone with cancer

February 21, 2023 | by Samir Undevia, MD

When someone close to your heart tells you they have cancer, you may feel at a loss for words. Even though you want to be there for your friend, it is difficult to know what to say or how to lend a helping hand.

The most important thing you can do for your friend is listen. An American Cancer Society study showed that cancer survivors with emotional support adjust better to changes cancer brings to their lives, have more of a positive outlook and report a better quality of life.  

You can support your friend in other ways, by:

  • Offering to run daily errands like visits to the grocery store, post office or laundry mat, or picking kids up from school. You can also offer to take your friend to treatment.
  • Organizing a meal chain of friends and family who can help provide dinners or other meals for your friend’s family.
  • Providing books or audio books, puzzles, magazines or DVDs for your friend while they are resting at home or in chemotherapy.
  • Scheduling small get-togethers with your friend in advance. Scheduling time together gives both you and your friend something to look forward to and can help keep your friend’s spirit high. Make plans that are easy to change and be flexible in case your friend needs to reschedule.
  • Creating several small care packages throughout treatment that contain fun socks, mind games, pajamas or a robe, pictures of friends, or fun hats and scarves.
  • Sending cards and inspirational quotes of support reminding your friend they are in your thoughts.

If your friend is out of state, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network offers some great ways you can be there even when you are miles away, including:

  • Staying in touch. Don’t underestimate the emotional support that comes from regular phone calls or emails.
  • Being respectful of your friend’s wishes. Make offers and suggestions gently and see how they are received before proceeding. Don’t push if your friend doesn’t always feel like talking or asks you to postpone a visit.
  • Finding out what’s needed, including offering to do research on oncologists, facilities, treatments, clinical trials and available support services.
  • Volunteering to be the “go to” point person for others. Offering to oversee phone calls, emails, a care page, or blog to update friends and relatives may alleviate some anxiety and doesn’t require living nearby.
  • Taking time to visit. Use vacation time or a holiday weekend to visit your friend. Spend this time doing fun things together.
  • Making thoughtful gestures. Send little gifts that you think your loved one will enjoy such as music CDs or gift cards, entertaining novels, or magazine subscriptions.

Don’t forget to reach out to your friend’s caregiver to make sure they have all the support they need too.

Learn more about cancer support services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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