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Ways to Help a Friend With Cancer

Is a friend or family member living with cancer? Here are a few ideas about what you can do to help.

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It is normal to feel a variety of emotions when a friend has cancer. You may feel sad, scared, guilty, helpless, or angry. Even if you are not the primary caregiver, there are many ways you can help and make a difference. However, it's important to know the appropriate ways to get involved. Here are four strategies that can guide your efforts.

Help with errands and household tasks

Cancer treatment can make running errands, preparing meals, and performing many other time-consuming activities difficult for a person. Taking care of these tasks can make a difference for a friend. Some suggestions on ways you can help include:

  • Housework, cooking, cleaning, and running errands.
  • Transportation to medical appointments.
  • Taking care of pets or plants.

Before doing anything, you may want to ask questions to find out what your friend needs. This can help you avoid causing stress instead of reducing it.

Learn about the type of cancer

Take the time to learn about the type of cancer your friend is living with, including how it is treated. This knowledge can be helpful if your friend wants to talk about their diagnosis. Also, understand that your friend may not want to discuss their diagnosis, and be cautious about sharing any information you have learned, even if you think it may be helpful. Cancer is a very personal experience, and treatment decisions are also a highly personal matter.

Listen

Sometimes, allowing a friend to share their thoughts and feelings is one of the best things you can do. Let your friend know that you are willing to listen when they are ready to talk. Again, understand that your friend may not want to discuss their diagnosis. Also, understand that your friend may want to talk about things other than cancer.

You may have questions about your friend's diagnosis. Try to avoid asking questions unless your friend makes it clear that they are ready for that conversation. Don't offer advice or share stories about other people with cancer and their experiences.

Making plans

Everyone needs a distraction from time to time. This is especially true during uncertain times. Plan something fun for you and your friend to do together. Keep in mind that cancer can disrupt plans. Cancer and cancer treatments can cause fatigue and make a person feel unwell. Cancer can also make normal activities challenging and change the foods a person can eat. Be flexible and talk to your friend about what they need at that moment.

Article sources open article sources

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer.
CancerCare. What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One?
American Cancer Society. Being a Friend to Someone with Cancer.
Cancer Research UK. How to support someone with cancer.
Annette Schork. 7 Ways to Support a Friend with a New Cancer Diagnosis. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. April 27, 2016.
National Cancer Institute. When Someone You Love Has Advanced Cancer.

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