As a cancer survivor, I hear this often: “My friend was just diagnosed with cancer. How can I show my support? I’m so afraid I’ll say or do the wrong thing!” During the long months of my angiosarcoma treatment five years ago, my husband, children and I were blessed with a wonderful network of friends and acquaintances who met our family’s logistical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Based on my experience, here are my top three tips for those seeking to help a loved one or friend with cancer.
1. Don’t say, “Let me know how I can help.”
I know you’re sincere in your desire to help your friend, but she’s overwhelmed right now. It’s difficult for her to connect her pressing needs with the vague offers of assistance she will receive from most people.
For this reason, the best way to help is to make specific offers. Let her know a day or time that you’re available or a task you’d like to cover for her. Here are some examples:
- “I’d like to bring you dinner next week. Would Monday or Wednesday work?”
- “I’m going to the store tomorrow. What can I pick up for you?”
- “I have free time next Friday. Can I help you with cleaning or running errands?”
2. Communicate support frequently in ways that don’t require her to respond.
One of the greatest needs of a cancer fighter is to know she’s not alone in the battle. When you frequently communicate support to your friend with cancer, you let her know that she’s not forgotten.
While receiving support is important, the time required for responding to messages can become a burden to a cancer patient. So consider ways to communicate support to your friend that don’t require a reply.
Mailing a card is one way to show support that doesn’t need a reply. It also lets your friend know you cared enough to take the extra time to find her address and a stamp!
If your friend has a website, blog or social media page where she posts updates, leave a comment or a guestbook message. She will appreciate a short note that says, “Thanks for the update. I’m praying for you!” or “I’m sorry you are going through this. I care about you and support you.”
3. Ask questions about how your friend is feeling rather than making assumptions.
I know it’s tempting to put yourself in your friend’s shoes and make assumptions about how she’s feeling. But your friend needs you to listen and understand, rather than guess.
For example, your first reaction to the news of her diagnosis might be, “You must be terrified!” But she may be feeling hopeful or determined that day.
A better approach is to ask questions and listen well. Try these:
- How are you today? (This question frees her to discuss cancer or the weather.)
- How are you coping with your diagnosis today?
- How does chemo make you feel at this point?
- How can I pray for you or support you in the emotions you’re experiencing?
Then listen well and let her know that you care.
Showing a genuine interest in understanding what your friend is going through will go a long way in helping her feel loved and supported. I know it did for me.
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