3 Ways to Be There for a Friend with Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in honor, we wanted to share some tips on how you can support a friend with cancer. If you have any questions please contact us at hi@wellthy.com.

In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the United States. This means that well over 10 million people knew someone who received a cancer diagnosis. If not in 2016, you might know someone diagnosed with cancer in the future. There are ways you can help! Below our Care Coordinators share some thoughts.

Helping a friend with Cancer

Explore treatment options.

The initial diagnosis period is the best moment to explore treatment options. For the same tumor and care recipient, one doctor may operate while another may prescribe chemotherapy and radiation. However, once a treatment plan is started, many doctors will not provide a second opinion and the care recipient often loses eligibility into many clinical trials. As a friend, you can be the patient, supportive sounding board as your friend explores treatment options.

Prepare for appointments.

“My appointment with my doctor, was just another “meeting”. So I decided to treat it like one.”

Doctors are crunched on time and are getting pushed to squeeze patients into 15 minute increments. Because of the limited doctor/patient facetime, people we know think of their appointment like a business meeting. They’ll prepare, research, write an agenda, and bring a notebook. They’ll open the appointment with their doctor by stating their agenda and listing questions, and close with next steps. This allows the patient and the doctor to use the time most efficiently. As a friend, you can offer to help prep your friend for their appointment or accompany them so you can be their notetaker.

What to say to a friend who receives a cancer diagnosis.

Everyone worries about saying the wrong thing! And conversations about cancer or a new diagnosis can be awkward on both sides. We’ll share a few quick conversation tips we’ve found helpful: try saying "thank you so much for telling me" instead of “oh my god, I’m so sorry” or “how awful.” The latter puts the burden on them, while the former puts the burden on you.

Rather than offering to give someone space, suggest things to do together. Offer to accompany your friend to appointments, research treatments, make any phone calls, or eat ice cream and cry together.

And finally, go ahead and assume that your friend wants to talk about their diagnosis! They'll let you know if they're tired of talking about it or you can pick up on signs if they start clamming up or providing curt answers. If your friend does seem interested in talking, ask questions and dig into specifics--ask about next steps, treatments, what the doctor is advising.

Ultimately, there is no one way, no simple rubric or checklist to follow. Anything you say or do that is from the heart will be greatly and genuinely appreciated.