There’s no denying that hearing about someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is scary. It’s confronting and can bring up a range of emotions for the friends and family around them.
Fear; for them and their life and how difficult their life is about to become.
Sorrow, pity; scared and worried for your friend, and sometimes wanting to fix everything and make it go away.
Relief; that it isn’t you. This is normal and nothing to feel guilty about because no one would wish for this.
Reality; everything is about to change for you both and for your friendship, and change is challenging.
1. Don’t ghost us: It’s the worst thing that can happen. Being thrust into the medical system and a world of appointments is really overwhelming and it can be so lonely and isolating. There is a lot of loss that comes with a diagnosis - health, identity, work, time, energy and so much more. It’s like the rug has been ripped from underneath us and everything changes instantly. We don’t want to lose you too. If you’re scared, or worried, tell us! Being open about how you feel will help everyone approach
2. Show up for us, literally: Ask if you can drive us to an appointment, pick up some groceries or clean the house. Sometimes just being there, sitting on the couch watching a movie and not talking is enough. Think practical and be specific because sending a text that says “Let me know if you need anything” is possibly the most unhelpful and frustrating thing to receive. This is a time when everything becomes hyper-focused and we are operating minute by minute, so we often have no idea what we need or how to ask for help. If you feel awkward or stuck, just offer the little things like bringing in a coffee or dropping off some meals for the freezer. You could get together with a few close friends and arrange to do something together like grocery shopping, cooking, washing clothes, and changing bed linen. Every little thing will be appreciated but importantly don’t expect praise - do it because you love us and genuinely want to help.
3. Learn about our diagnosis and treatments: Get informed but don’t expect us to teach you, we have got enough going on already. The best thing we could hear from you is how you’ve dedicated some time to learning a little bit about what we are going through and it shows that you really care. There are many different types of cancer and treatments so it can be very confusing at the start. Offer to come to an appointment and take notes - this is helpful because appointments can become overwhelming with so much information. Sometimes in the moment we forget to ask questions or are too focused on something else which means other information gets forgotten easily. Having notes to go back to can help refresh your memory and perhaps open up a conversation between you and your friend about the details of their treatment or disease.
4. Include us: Don’t stop inviting us to events. Even if we can never come, we always want to be invited.This one is difficult, because you may not think we want to go out, or that we’re far too tired or unwell. It may be the case, but giving us the power to choose is so important at a time like this. Autonomy and independence has been completely stripped from our daily lives as we are told where to go and when for every appointment. Having something social that we can choose to participate in is so important and gives us some power back. However, be prepared to adapt the activity if the answer is yes! Some places may be too noisy or crowded. Make sure there is an elevator instead of stairs so we don’t tire ourselves quickly. And please don’t be annoyed or frustrated if your friend needs to leave quickly - when your energy levels are already low, things can change so quickly and moving to a calm, safe environment quickly is super important.
5. Be guided by us: If we feel comfortable telling you about our treatment, listen and ask relevant questions to keep the conversation going. Don’t shy away and change the subject because you feel awkward - this only makes us feel more isolated. Ask open questions (starting with How, When, What, Where etc) and try not to be too vague. “How are you feeling” is much too broad and doesn’t open the conversation. Some good questions to ask:
How did you sleep last night?
When is your next treatment/chemo/Dr appointment?
What is something you have done to treat yourself today?
How is your pain at the moment?
What’s your favourite movie we can watch together?
Would you like to talk about anything specific?
What would be the most helpful thing I can do right now?
6. Keep telling us about you: Whilst most of our time and energy is now spent in the medical world of appointments and treatment, we still like to hear about you and what is happening in your life! If you feel awkward that it is silly or mundane compared to what we’re going through, just mention that but reality is we still like to hear about it.
There’s no denying that your friendship will change and may feel unequal because you’ll need to give more than you take for time while your friend is going through their treatment. The best thing to remember is that they will appreciate you showing up and being there for them in any way you can, and open communication will help you both navigate the changes to hopefully form a wonderful, strong friendship.
Have you wanted to send a gift to your friend but didn't know what would be suitable? At Brighter Day we have selected some small items that are perfect to show your love and support, including comfy socks and empathy cards alongside our debut collection of clothing that is adaptable for chest ports and other medical access needs. See the full range here.