Here are some tips for caregiving for a friend with cancer. Your friend has been diagnosed with cancer and now suddenly you must deal with this new dynamic in your relationship. This new change of having a serious illness can make you unsure how to act. Even renowned cancer experts report having great difficulty when it comes to communicating with loved ones and friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. What is wonderful is that you have decided to be a caregiver for your friend who needs a friend now more than ever.

Remember, since everybody reacts differently to their cancer diagnosis, be sure to listen to your friend and what they really need to get them through this difficult time. Your friend may pull away, become reserved, emotional, needy, or act in a variety of other ways. It is important to be patient and respectful of your friend’s wishes. Allow them plenty of time to adjust. Of course, if something is bothering you, be sure to talk to them. As a friend, you have a very important role to play in your friend’s care.

Many people have trouble communicating with a friend when he/she reveals they have cancer. Here are some suggestions on how to converse with your friend about their cancer diagnosis:

  • The best thing you can do is to say something. Cancer Family Care, an organization that provides support to those coping with cancer, points out that being silent can easily be interpreted as not caring.
  • Say something like, “I’m sorry to hear you have cancer.” This shows the person that you care and leaves the conversation open for the person to talk with you more about their diagnosis if they wish.
  • Follow your friend’s conversation. Let your friend lead the conversation after they tell you they have cancer. They may or may not want to talk about the diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis. Taking his/her lead will allow your friend to speak as much as they want about their condition, but not make it look like you prying into their private health concerns.
  • Listen.
  • Don’t be afraid to be emotional. While you may have few ideas to how your friend will react to your emotional reaction, a friend’s tears and concerns can truly let the patient know that they are loved and cared for.

Any conversation about a cancer diagnosis will be difficult and challenging for so many reasons. Please remember that there is no right or wrong way to respond to the devastating news. However, please try to avoid the following topics that may distress the patient:

  • Do not talk about others who have died from cancer that you know.
  • Do not offer false hope or cheer.
  • Do not preach to your friend about how cancer will make them stronger and they should be strong.
  • Do not say that you know what the person is going through. Each person is an individual, and every situation affects everyone in their own unique way.
  • Try to avoid vague phrasing such as “Call if there’s anything that I can do.” While this phrase shows your desire to help, the patient and their family may feel they are a burden if they call you to ask for any favors. Therefore, when trying to help your friend, call (if it is welcomed) with specific ways to help, such as “Can I drop off your child at dance class? Can I get you come groceries while I’m at the grocery store?” and so on. Check
  • Avoid telling them that they need to talk more about their treatment and prognosis.

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, the world the patient knows can change rapidly and nothing may seem constant to them. One of the most important things you can do is to offer tangible signs and communicate that your friendship will remain constant throughout the process. In the best manner you can, communicate that to your friend.

Deciding to become a caregiver to a friend with cancer is a tremendous responsibility and a very kind act. Depending upon how close your relationship is with your friend, there are a great number of ways for you to help your friend. Tell your friend the exact ways in which you are able to help; this will allow him/her to pick a task and keep some sense of control. Here are some tips for things you can do to help care for your friend:

  • If you have the time and means, visit as much as your friend would like. Everyone enjoys the company of a good friend, especially during difficult times. Make sure that your friend knows that it is okay to tell you that they do not want to visit at a specific time or at all.
  • Besides visiting, keep in touch with your friend. Take time out of your busy life to talk with your friend and let them know they are important.
  • Make plans for the future.
  • Be sure to remember and follow through on what you promised.
  • Talk to and treat your friend the same way you did before the cancer diagnosis. This helps the patient to feel normal and to not make cancer seem the constant center of his/her life.
  • Run errands. Often times cancer therapy leaves patients feeling tired and dealing with many side effects. Someone to pick up dry cleaning, groceries, prescriptions, and other odds and ends can be of greatest help.
  • Offer to drop off or pick up children from school and other activities. Knowing their children are taken care of and can get places is a great comfort to anyone.
  • Take up a new hobby or class together.
  • Offer to care for a pet when necessary.
  • Offer to accompany your friend to treatment sessions if they would like your company and if your schedule permits.
  • Be a liaison if the occasion arises. It is very possible for members of a family to be at odds over treatment and other aspects of living with cancer. Having a friend mediate and try to relieve tension may be a great way to ease the situation and come to a compromise.
  • Allow your friend to live. It is very hard when someone we love has cancer, and many friends easily become like a member of your own family. Therefore, it is very natural to want to remind them constantly to go to their doctor’s appointments, if they took their medications and other things that “protect” them. However, it is very important to remember that a social life is an important part of life and you should refrain from being aggressive about their care (if your friend asks for your help in remembering when to take pills or go to doctor appointments you should definitely help them if you can). Life is a balance. But be sure to talk with your friend if you feel they are doing something harmful to their health.
  • Be a relief hitter. Many immediate family members get overwhelmed when trying to care and spend time with the patient. By working with the family and scheduling some time to visit the patient in the hospital or at home can be a great relief to the family and allow the family to do other things while they know their loved one has company.
  • Try to provide humor. Life is serious enough for a cancer patient, try to let them have fun and laugh.
  • Be flexible. This helpful caregiving tip cannot be overstated. A sick friend may need to cancel plans or adjust how a day was planned out for a variety of reasons. Work with your friend and allow plans to change so that the two of you can spend time together. If your friend is sick and can’t go out, go to them and watch a movie or do a craft. A night in can be just as fun as a night out.
  • Watch and listen for what is unsaid. Many times, especially for friends, patients will try to be strong, lie about how sick they are feeling, and remain active even when their body is fatigued. Watch for these signs, and try to adjust accordingly.

These suggestions are just a few ideas on how you can help a friend suffering from cancer. Only your friend and yourself can truly judge what will be helpful in your situation. Being there as a friend during their time of need can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. So treasure the experience and take care of yourself along the road so that you can better take care of your friend.

LRG Staff
Author: LRG Staff