Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is not just Earth-shattering for one who is ill, but for friends and family that surround their loved one at a tragic time. Many people wonder what can be done to support an ill friend without seeming awkward or forced, and though changes to your relationship are now imminent, you don’t have to let it tear the two of you apart.
Cancer affects nearly 1.9 million people each year, with news of that dreaded diagnosis putting a stop to all things normal. It’s likely that a newly diagnosed friend will need additional emotional support, but there are so many things going on in their world that they may be unable to reach out. In reality, cancer patients who have a strong emotional support system are much more likely to experience a full recovery than those who struggle to maintain friend and family relationships. If you’re wondering how to best support a friend struggling with a diagnosis of cancer, read on to see how you can offer that much-needed support while still respecting boundaries.
1. Take Time to Prepare Yourself for Difficult Conversations
Learning that a dear friend has cancer is very difficult, and being able to process your own feelings before reaching out will aid in your ability to be a source of strength to him/her. Your time together is not necessarily about YOU at this point, but what your FRIEND needs and desires.
2. Do Some Research on the Diagnosis Yourself
Your friend may not be in a place to discuss or describe the diagnosis to you. Respect his/her boundaries by asking if they want to discuss it, and if you wish to do more, do some research into the condition yourself as a means of understanding what your friend is going through.
3. Check In and Offer Help
Due to rising stress, loss of sleep, and general feelings of illness and pain, a friend may not be able to keep up with daily activities of work, cleaning, and child care. Check in and offer to help where it is appropriate, and respect his/her right to deny your efforts to help. You can even offer services like grocery shopping, lawn care, or picking up whatever items they need. Refuse to let this be a sore spot between the two of you, as there are more important things to focus on right now.
4. Allow for Sadness, Anger, and Other Unsavory Emotions
Cancer is a time of grieving, anger, and rage at the unjustness of a situation that a patient cannot control. It is also a time of sadness for friends and family members who can do little to help these patients process their grief. Sometimes, all that is needed is a good cry, some gentle hugs, and sitting in silence in support of a friend, no matter what the outcome. Allow for this, for these emotions must be processed and moved through to see what gifts can come from an experience like this.
5. Treat Your Friend Exactly the Same as You Did Before
It’s very frustrating to be treated with kid gloves after a devastating medical diagnosis. Most days, a patient living with cancer just wants to resume normal activities and return to those familiar things that made them feel strong and healthy. Refuse to treat your friend any differently than you did before, and you may see your relationship thrive, becoming deeper and richer than ever before.
6. Make Plans but Be Flexible
Make plans with your friend to do enjoyable activities together, but remain flexible and understanding if these plans can’t be carried out. Your friend may be struggling with nausea, fatigue, and weakness which make it difficult to keep up an active social calendar for an extended period of time. Consider taking up quieter activities such as painting classes, watching old movies, and having high tea and crumpets at home. These activities will allow the two of you to spend time together without the added pressure of maintaining strength and composure while out in public.
7. Laugh Well, Laugh Often!
So many magical moments will be had as the two of you deepen your relationship along this pathway. Embrace those moments of joy, reminisce and laugh over old jokes, and have fun! Laughter has a healing component to it, and refusing to indulge in ongoing negativity will allow the two of you to bond and possibly heal together.
Cancer is an awful diagnosis, but it does not have to negatively impact your relationship. Think positively, act with integrity and love, and enjoy the moments you have together, regardless of the outcome.