Being a Friend to Someone With Cancer
While on the book tour, the number one question that people asked me (and I am asked on a daily basis) is “How do I be a friend to someone with Cancer?” In light of this question and all of the new blog readers, I thought I would re-post an oldie but goodie: “Being a friend to someone with cancer.”
It’s so easy to connect with friends when talking over lunch, catching up while going for a hike, or planning a dinner party. However, if cancer strikes your friend, the dynamics of your relationship will change in a big way! I have experienced this both as someone who has had cancer as well as in the position of being a friend of someone who has cancer.
As I have said before, cancer does not happen in isolation. It didn’t just happen to me. It happens to a person’s family, friends, and community. What this means to you, the friend of someone who has cancer, is that you have the opportunity to play an important supporting role for your friend throughout their cancer journey. Don’t feel overwhelmed or helpless. They may see you as of their most important Silver Linings through out their sickness.
Here are some suggestions on how to support your friend through cancer:
1. Be present. This does not mean being physically present at all times because not everyone wants to be visited when they are sick. However, being present means doing little things such as helping with childcare, dropping off food, running errands, sending a small note, or suggesting a good movie or book. In this way, you are being present through random acts of kindness which will go a long way with your friend.
2. Be inquisitive. First, ask your friend if they are up to talking. If they are, follow by asking specifically what you could do that would be beneficial for them during treatment. Although questions like these may be hard to ask, being inquisitive shows how much you care about your friend and that you want to be sensitive and aware of their needs. It is ok if they do not have an answer for you. Your thoughtfulness in asking will be appreciated.
3. Be calm. Calmness goes a long way in maintaining perspective and balance. In my own experience, I especially appreciated when my friends didn’t try to problem solve (the often unsolvable problems) and didn’t flinch when they saw my bald head and anorexic body. Also, let me tell ya, your friend with cancer will not want to be around someone who brings in the drama. Be a friend that intentionally remains cool, calm, and collected through out the process.
4. Be persistent. Many friends feel that they should somewhat distance themselves from their friend with cancer because they don’t want to bother them when they are sick. While this sensitivity is thoughtful, it may distance you from your friend who needs support. Instead of distancing yourself, be persistent. Send an email or voicemail to your friend that says “I’m thinking about you. You don’t need to respond. Just know.” A simple gesture like this is extremely fueling and loving towards your friend.
5. Be normal. Talk with your friend the same way you did before they became ill. There is so much hopefulness in the ordinary, everyday life. Your friend who is sick will want to feel as if your relationship has not changed because of their illness. Show them that it hasn’t. If you feel nervous about visiting or talking with your friend who has cancer, make a list of topics to begin dialogue.
I’d love to hear what has worked for you (and maybe even what hasn’t!).