How To Be Supportive When a Friend or Loved One Has Cancer

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The National Cancer Institute reports that in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. Considering the statistics, there’s a good chance that you know or will know at least one person, who is battling cancer, in your lifetime. As a friend or relative of someone who has recently received a cancer diagnosis, you may be at a loss for words and unsure of how to show your support.

Although the news of cancer is always difficult to hear, it’s important to remember that your support can be valuable in one’s journey with cancer. If you don’t know where to begin, here are some tips:

Take a Little Time to Process

When a friend or loved one tells you that he or she has cancer, you may find yourself searching for the right words to say at that exact moment and if you fail to be articulate or feel overwhelmed with a range of emotions, it’s completely normal. Before you take action in helping out, it’s important to try to process the news in your own time. Although there’s no timeframe to processing and coping, your friend or loved deserves your attention. Try not to fill up a conversation and time with him or her with your grief and negativity.

Make Yourself Available and Ask What You Can Do

After you’ve taken a little time to let the news sink in, the first thing you should do is ask how you can help and make sure that your friend or loved one knows you are available. Every individual may have different needs and wants. While one may want you to jump in and help right away, another may be resistant to accept help. Be persistent in your offering, but never push too hard. Remember, he or she is processing and coping, too.

Be Prepared for Anything

When you tell your friend or loved one that you are available and willing to do anything to help, stand behind your words. If your friend wants you to go to an appointment with her and act as a second set of eyes and ears while she receives information about her cancer treatment drug or surgical procedure, bring a notepad and take notes. When a loved one calls you up and says she’s feeling lonely and upset, offer to bring over her favorite dessert and a funny movie.

As your friend or loved one continues on his or her journey with cancer, the help you give may be more intimate (such as helping out with personal care) and you may encounter some dark days. It’s important to be strong, be positive, and always listen.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Being a supportive person can be trying at times, particularly in difficult situations. Maybe you’ve run out of things to say, maybe you feel like a fake being “peppy and full of positivity.” When emotions are raw, it’s easy to say the wrong thing without knowing that you did. Rather than struggling to find the right words or worry that you may say something offensive, ask your friend or loved one what he or she wants (or doesn’t want) to hear. If you truly have a good relationship with him or her, he or she will likely be honest with you. When you are at a loss for words, simply say so; it may be more appreciated than you think.

There are no definite right or wrongs when it comes to showing your support to a friend or loved one with cancer, as it varies from one individual to the next. The best thing you can do is make your intentions known and make yourself available.

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