What is the right thing to say to a friend diagnosed with cancer? There is no single right answer to this question. Every person, like every cancer diagnosis, is different. With these variables in mind, here are three tips to be a supportive friend and maintain a great relationship.
“Let me know if you need anything” is a comforting and common response to offer when hearing your friend has cancer. Before you say this, ask yourself if you really would be able to go to appointments, bring over hot meals, or babysit during treatment times.
At the time of diagnosis, your friend will probably feel an outflowing of support. As time goes on, this support may wane. Make sure to check in with your friend regularly. If you know it’s a treatment day, send a quick “thinking-of-you” text. If an important scan is coming up, plan something fun to distract your friend while waiting for test results. These sincere yet simple actions can make a big difference in your friend’s day.
Treat your friend the same as you did before cancer.
The disappearance of friends is a common complaint among cancer survivors. Keep in mind that while your friend may not feel well enough to do all the activities you once did together, he or she is still the same person with the same interests, passions, and sense of humor.
Don’t walk on eggshells around your friend. Don’t assume the diagnosis is terminal. Many people go on to lead long, healthy lives following a cancer diagnosis. Offer a helping hand, but don’t be overprotective or overbearing. There will be days when your friend doesn’t feel well, but there will also be good days.
Take cues from your friend. Don’t be offended if he or she doesn’t want to talk about treatments and appointments. If your friend does choose to open up, simply listen and ask questions.
Respect your friend’s privacy.
For some, a cancer diagnosis can be a very emotional and uncertain experience. Therefore, your friend may wish to keep the details of his or her cancer journey private. If someone asks you how your friend is doing, give a polite but simple answer. Every survivor is different in how much he or she feels comfortable sharing, so a good rule is not to relay private or sensitive information unless your friend has given you permission.
Always remember it is okay to feel uneasy talking to your friend about his or her cancer diagnosis. A cancer journey is tough for everyone involved. If you are completely at a loss for words, simply admit it. Tell your loved one that you don’t know what to say but are there if they need someone to listen. Just being there for them can speak volumes.