It's natural to feel sad, frightened, or helpless when someone you care about has cancer. However, getting involved—in the right ways—can be invaluable to the patient and can help you cope with your feelings, too. Here are five ways you can make a difference:

1. Offer help with logistics and daily chores. Cancer treatment can make it difficult for even the hardiest individual to keep up with errands, prepare meals, and complete the myriad of other activities that demand our time. Taking care of tasks like these can really make a difference to a sick friend. Before you do anything, however, make sure your efforts will be helpful: ask your loved one specifically what she needs or would like, or offer suggestions about what you can do. Because if your inclination is to provide meals, but your friend already has a freezer full of food or finds cooking therapeutic, you may actually create stress and anxiety, rather than relieve it.

Some other practical ways to help cancer patients include:

  • Transporting children to and from school
  • Sharing updates with others on the person's behalf
  • Driving the patient to medical appointments
  • Accompanying the patient to doctors' appointments and taking notes
  • Taking care of pets or plants

2. Educate yourself. Cancer-and the unfamiliar medical language that may accompany it-can make patients feel isolated. Learning as much as you can about your friend's specific type of cancer and treatment options allows you to show you care. But be warned: share any information you uncover with great diplomacy, and never question your friend's treatment decisions.

3. Listen. Sometimes, just letting a cancer patient share her thoughts and feelings-uninterrupted and without judgment-is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow. Don't pry, but make it clear you are willing to listen when she wants to talk. And if your friend does share, don't interrupt, offer advice (unless asked), or share horror stories about other people's cancer experiences. And, remember, this is not the time to talk about how you feel about her being sick.

4. Make plans. Scheduling activities and outings gives the patient something to look forward to, and can provide a sense of normalcy in an otherwise uncertain time. Plan activities she enjoys and can participate in, but be flexible: cancer and cancer treatments can cause fatigue and other side effects that disrupt even the best-laid plans.

5. Use the word "recovery" in your conversations. You don't want to raise false hopes or act as though nothing is wrong, but providing a sense of hopefulness about the future by referencing recovery can be comforting and reassuring for both of you.

LeslieBeth Wish, EDD, MSS, reviewed this article.

 


 

Sources:

Paddock, Catherine, PhD. "Helping Someone With Cancer." Medical News Today. Web. 1 October 2010. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/203263.php

National Cancer Institute. "Coping with Cancer: Supportive and Palliative Care. For Caregivers, Family, and Friends." Web. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/familyfriends

Cancer Care. "What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One?" Web. 2008.
http://www.cancercare.org/reading_room/fact_sheets/fs_loved_one.php

Wallis, Claudia. "How to Talk to a Friend With Cancer ." Time. Web. 5 October 2007. http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1666089_1666563_1667824,00.
html#ixzz137HKnVpW

Cancer.net. "Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer." Cancer.net. Web. 17 August 2009.
http://www.cancer.net/all-about-cancer/cancernet-feature-articles/family-friends-and-caregivers/supporting-friend-who-has-cancer

Berkeley Parents Network. "Supporting Friends & Family with Cancer." Web. 10 June 2009.
http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/parents/cancersupport.html