5 Ways to Support a Friend with Cancer

helping friend cancer.jpg

1. Offer Specific Help  
Can you cook meals a few times a week or have groceries delivered? Does he need someone to drive him to chemo appointments or pick up prescriptions? Can you be the point person who communicates the latest updates to friends and family by email or through a website like CaringBridge? Have a conversation with your friend, assess their needs, and offer to play a specific role.

More Ways to Help

• Helping a Loved One with Cancer Long Distance 
(National Comprehensive Cancer Network)

How to Be a Friend to Someone with Cancer (American Cancer Society)

10 Tips for Supporting a Friend with Cancer (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)

• Helping Someone with Cancer
(Canadian Cancer Society)

• 10 Ways to Help a Friend with Cancer
(The Huffington Post)

2. Volunteer to Do Research
Cancer patients have to gather facts, get expert opinions, and arm themselves with the best evidence-based information so they can make the very best treatment decisions. Volunteer to help. You can start by reading up on their condition at with the websites of the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Dive into the latest research and information from the major philanthropies that focus on their condition (e.g. Prostate Cancer Foundation, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, and the like). And sign them up for newsletters from the most respected institutions. (For detailed guidance on research, see Chapter 9, “Step 1—Immersion” in The Patient’s Playbook.) If your friend opts for a course of treatment that you disagree with, show restraint and respect. Remember that there is no one-size-fits-all healing plan. 

3. Listen Attentively
It can be difficult to know how to talk with someone who is going through a serious medical problem. But it's far better to admit, "I don't know what to say," than to not call or write. Follow her cues. Be present and listen attentively. Remember that everyone experiences illness differently and your friend may or may not want to discuss her diagnosis. In fact, a little fresh air and office gossip may be exactly what she needs right now. But it’s also okay to just ask, “Do you want to talk about it?"

Did a Friend Support You—Or Did You Help Someone Else—Through a Cancer Diagnosis?

We want to hear from you! Tell us about it on Facebook. What was the most helpful thing someone did for you? Share a memorable experience and help others to be a better friend.


4. Don’t Forget the Caregiver
Sometimes, people are uncomfortable accepting help from friends. But you can still help by supporting their spouse, relative, or whomever is serving as the patient’s primary caregiver. Caregivers are vulnerable to stress and burnout as they juggle multiple responsibilities and emotions. Are there specific ways you can give them a little break or some quality time with their loved one? Offer to babysit the kids for a night, walk the dog, or run errands. During a hospital stay, offer to fill in and be their eyes and ears so they can get some rest, a hot shower, or a cup of coffee. Above all, be a friend to the caregiver.

5. Give Support with No Strings Attached
Cancer treatment can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Your emails, phone calls, gifts, and positive expressions of support are noticed and appreciated. But your friend may not have the energy to respond to every voice message or email. Let them know there's no need to reply or send a thank you note. Give them your support with no strings attached and absolve them of any unintended stress your help may bring them.