Everything changes with a cancer diagnosis.
Cancer is one of the most emotionally jarring and comprehensively taxing things a person and their family can endure. When a friend or family member is diagnosed, most people are at a loss for the right thing to do or say.
Mobilizing a casserole-making army and saying thing like, “You’re going to beat this!” are the standard go-to’s, but it’s hard to know how else to support your friend in a way that is meaningful to her or him, especially if you’ve never been impacted by cancer firsthand.
Genuinely caring for your friend in intentional and personal ways is the best way to help him or her during this difficult time. Here are eight powerful ways to support a friend fighting (and with all our hope!) beating cancer.
Make Them Laugh
Mark Twain said, “the human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter”.
Humor is one of the best medicines for the soul, and body, as it turns out. In fact, laughter therapy is a reputable treatment for cancer patients at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Check it out.
Giving your friend something to laugh about will pause the chaotic world around them, even if just for a moment, and allow joy to fill what can be a very dark place. There are also physiological pay-offs to laughter like boosting the immune and circulatory system, releasing endorphins, and reducing stress.
Ditch the generic, get-well-soon store cards for one of these whimsical empathy cards crafted by Emily McDowell. With messages like: “Let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason”, you’re pretty much guaranteed a chuckle.
Recommend light-hearted Netflix series or some of your favorite movies that get everyone laughing. Email links to funny videos of their favorite comedians or late night talk show hosts.
There is an entire Instagram account, Cats vs. Cancer, dedicated to the long-esteemed healing power of feline antics and four-pawed cuteness. YouTube is also a veritable quicksand of hysterical two-minute videos that elicit involuntary belly laughs. Send a daily or weekly link to your friend of the best in humorous internet videos.
Be a Selfless Listener
They were your friend before the cancer diagnosis. They’ll be your friend after. So, treat them as a friend, not a cancer patient. <<Click to Tweet>>Treat them as a friend, not a cancer patient. <<Click to Tweet>>
One of the best ways to do this is to talk about things that don’t revolve around cancer, chemo treatments, foods that taste awful, or how tired they are. Give them a safe space to express their feelings honestly, but don’t let it be the only driver of your conversations.
In the same spirit, practice being a safe sounding board for them. Remaining positive is important, but let them vent their fears and emotions without always rebutting with statements like “everything is going to be okay”. Well-meaning phrases like this have the potential to feel patronizing or disrespectful to what is often an unpredictable and emotional journey.
If your friend needs to vent, let her or him vent.
A key point to remember is always leave on a positive note. Don’t end a Facetime session or leave a conversation on a dreadful or despairing topic. Lift your friend up by leaving with positive thoughts or personal encouragement.
An additional insight for communicating well as a friend is to include “No need to respond” at the end of texts, and “No need to call me back” in voicemails. It relieves them of any obligation to get back to you in the midst of a barrage of phone calls for medical appointments and texts from friends and family. Strive to be an asset of encouragement not a communication liability.
<<Image of an iMessage text bubble that says: Thinking about you today! I am free all next week to hangout and drive you to treatment. If you’re up for it, I’d obviously love to see you. No need to respond today. I’ll check back in next week. Love you! >>
Fundraise For Your Friend
On top of cancer being emotionally and physically draining, it can be a major financial burden as well. Accordingly to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, new to market cancer drugs can cost an average of $10,000/month.
Alleviate some of the financial burden with fundraising tools like the Change Giving App, one of the easiest ways to give back by giving your spare change every time you make a transaction. Through donations, these platforms facilitate community engagement to do everything from bankroll life dreams to financially subsidize long-term care illnesses like cancer.
Take advantage of tools like these to help raise money for a friend fighting the big C. Start a campaign to cover treatment costs or fundraise for a much needed family vacation. Talk to your friend beforehand to ask what their urgent financial needs are and what information they feel comfortable sharing. Then, take the initiative to set up the accounts, and spread the word.
Create a Letter Jar
Encouraging words bring light and joy into those inevitable dark days. Collect letters written by friends and family, and create a treasure chest of encouragement, love, and humor for them to open in a time-release fashion. It will help them feel the support regularly over what can months or even years.
Include letters full of encouraging words, treasured memories, and good jokes. Or anything they would appreciate that will lift them up on those particularly rough days.
Intentionally Offer Help
Be intentional with how you offer to help your friend fighting cancer. Statements like “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” puts pressure on them to be the one to ask for help and identify their needs.
<<Click to Tweet>> Statements like “let me know if there’s anything I can do” puts the pressure on them to be the one to ask for help.<<Click to Tweet>>
Instead, ask pointed questions that naturally define tangible tasks that you can help with, like:
What errands can I run for you?
What house chores are difficult right now?
What day(s) can I drive you to appointments?
Simple yet pointed questions will let your friend know that you’re more than just talk and are willing to step in immediately. The new normal of living with or beyond cancer is exhausting, and your friend may not even have the capacity to identify their practical needs. To truly add value, anticipate those needs. Be proactive instead of reactive.
Be Designated As The Update Contact
It can be tiring to update people over and over about the latest results and symptoms when you are struggling to keep up with all of the information and research yourself. Gather closest friends a family to identify a point person who will be responsible for informing everyone else.
Sites like CaringBridge.com provide free, secure journal or blogging platforms for long-term care diseases like cancer. Caringbridge facilitates an ‘update once and done’ approach to keeping family and friends, who can subscribe to their loved one’s site, up to date on the latest health news and personal information.
Tools like these allow friends and family to practice the principles from the “Be a Selfless Listener” step, and prevent your friend from having to repeat the same (and often difficult) information time and again. You can even assist in setting up the page and posting the journal entries, freeing up your friend to focus on more important things like rest and soul care.
Support their Spouse
Cancer doesn’t only affect the person diagnosed; it affects everyone around them, especially a spouse. The emotional turmoil of watching your partner go through something as difficult as cancer can be debilitating.
Talk to their spouse and ask how you can best serve, support, and love them or the family through this process. Spouses are inevitably taking on additional household and life responsibilities while their wife or husband is going through treatments and/or recovering. Create opportunities for them to take a break, spend more time with their spouse, and replenish physical and emotional energy store
Beating cancer, like raising children, takes a village of supporters and people stepping up where needed. Learn how to best serve your friend, and be proactive in your acts of love and service. It’s unbearable to fight cancer alone, so take the lead to rally an army of champions that will see your friend through the fight of (and for) his or her life.
Check out our giving page to see how you can help future cancer survivors.