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Few Tips on How to Support Friend with Cancer

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Clinical Directorate

Cancer Care

Few Tips on How to Support Friend with Cancer

Dr. Meenu Walia
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Medical Oncology, Oncology / Cancer Care
Director-Medical Oncology & Haematology

Cancer can be very isolating! It is important to know that there are “No” rules to support a friend who you just discovered has cancer. All that comes across to your mind is to stop by for a visit, send a gift or may be offer support to other family members too. Even if you want to help, you may find it really hard to understand what to say or do? Before approaching your friend, be prepared yourself, be sure of your emotions and feelings to keep a focus on your friend. Do not be afraid in touching, hugging or shaking hands with your friend; you might make him feel better. You must ask your friend questions and their opinions before you offer support.

Dr. Meenu Walia says, the more time you spend with your friend; there are chances that you would learn more about their everyday routine. It is often seen that cancer patients who have a stronger emotional support tend to adjust with the changes that cancer brings to their life as well as have a better quality of life. Below are few tips on how you can offer a helping hand to your cancer friend, here’s what we learned:

  • Take permission before you visit: Make sure that your friend is important to you, and you still care for him/her despite what disease he/she is suffering from or how he/she looks. This is true even when you are visiting someone at hospital or home as falling ill is unpredictable. It is a kind gesture if you give your friend permission to say no to a visit, and be understanding and flexible that an unwell  person may not be comfortable and may cancel meeting at the last minute. You should make an effort to reach out to your friend and if in case he does not respond to your phone call or emails, please do not take it personally as someone who is sick may not be at your disposal throughout. Avoid an extended stay as you do not want your sick friend to feel obligated and keep you entertained.


  • Lend help for daily tasks:  There are several people who find it difficult to ask for help. The most beneficial thing you can do is to offer help in everyday errands like grocery shopping, cooking food, or laundry. You can make efforts to reach out to friend in enquiring if there is anything else that you can do to avoid stressful situations.


  • Talk about topics other than cancer: Often it is seen that a person suffering with cancer is eager to share their thoughts and emotions with everyone through a blog, or a web page or may be through emails. You can initiate the conversation by asking about their likes/dislikes, hobbies, interests so that they get a break from the disease discussion.


  • Shower thoughtful Gifts: It would be great if you reconsider offering gifts that are of much use to your cancer friend. Gifting books, magazines, novels may be a noble gesture as it would keep the person occupied during chemotherapy sessions, similarly motivational Self-help  books or movies or CDs will help them in their emotional journey also family photographs, video message from family and friends, flowers or plants etc can also be gifted. For some people, gifting a perfume or deodorant would be a great choice as it would distract them from the usual routine smell of medicines. A unique idea would be to gift a certificate for cleaning service so that your friend can get it redeemed and utilize the service.


  • Listen Carefully: An awkward situation might arise when you do not know what to ask or say. The most meaningful and helpful thing you can do is to LISTEN carefully. Do not let the disease come in between your friendship and keep yourself updated with every little activity happening in the treatment.  


  • Support caregivers and Family Members: Often we forget that members who are caring about your cancer friend might require support too. They are too busy to juggle in their existing roles as well as adjusting in the new role that the sick person was handling before he was unwell. You can offer help by being with the patient when the caregiver has gone out for a cup of coffee, or babysitting kids by reading out stories or taking out for a drive.


  • Do Not Compare Illnesses: Even if you know that your friend is suffering with the same type of cancer that you are aware of, before you approach in consoling him, remember that everyone’s illness and symptoms are different. You must avoid making comparisons. For instance, avoid saying that my other friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, and they are doing absolutely great. It is not correct to compare illnesses.


  • Offer support throughout the Illness: Patients need support not at the beginning of illness but along the entire continuum. Offers of help often trigger when the person is first diagnosed with cancer or is admitted in the hospital. It is preferable if you ask to help once or twice and not so frequently. You can really touch the life of a person overwhelmingly.