6 Ways to Support a Friend with Cancer


If you know someone with cancer, this blog is for you.

Studies show that people with cancer need support from friends. Support gives cancer patients a more positive outlook and a better quality of life. While every person experiences different emotions and needs, here are six suggestions from experts, survivors and counselors to help a friend battling cancer:

1. Be Present
Having difficulty knowing what to do or say to a friend with cancer? Sometimes just being there helps the most. Provide a safe space for your friend to share feelings, or to simply be quiet.  Acknowledge their emotions and avoid band-aid phrases like "at least it's not..." Ann Pietrangelo, cancer survivor and author of Catch That Look: Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, says, "You don't need to be reminded that things can always be worse. Comparing cancers is not helpful." Even saying, "I don't even know what to say right now, I'm just so glad you told me," and letting them know they're not alone are good first steps.

2. Write Cards
A short note lets your friend know you're thinking of them without requiring a response. Ending notes with "I'll be in touch soon" gives your friend something to look forward to in the future. Lynda Ford, a breast cancer survivor shares, "While the person with cancer is often too tired to talk on the telephone, cards, letters and e-mails are a great way to stay connected, and often are re-read with a warm smile."

3. Visit
Cancer patients often feel isolated during treatment. Spending time with your friend provides a warm and welcome distraction. Keep in mind that your friend may not always be up for a visit, so plan ahead and understand if times or dates change. Anita Carton, a survivor of ovarian cancer shares, "I remember when I was in the hospital. I loved the attention from everyone, but I had to minimize the energy I gave back." Your friend may want to be alone one day and surrounded by friends the next. When visiting, don't be scared to greet your friend with a hug and consider making future plans so they can look forward to another visit.

4. Offer Specific Help
Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig suggests offering to make dinner, drive a weekly carpool, do laundry or run errands. Or pitch in with other friends for a cleaning or laundry service that fits your friend's treatment schedule. Sometimes, a general offer to help puts pressure on your friend or caregiver to suggest something in particular, so offer help with specific tasks.

5. Be an Appointment Companion
Seemingly endless paperwork, treatment plans and doctor's appointments often overwhelm people fighting cancer. Offer to ease the burden by attending appointments, handling time-consuming insurance paperwork or phone calls. Lindsay Avner, founder and CEO of Bright Pink, suggests sitting with your friend in the waiting room before appointments and taking notes and being an extra set of eyes and ears during appointments.

6. Stay Present
As a person recovers or enters remission, they still need support. Your friend will have follow-up medical care and ultimately adjust to a new normal. Survivorship also requires extra emotional support around fear of recurrence or family issues that develop throughout treatment, so remain present and compassionate even after cancer treatment finishes. Check out the American Cancer Society and Cancer.Net for more resources on survivorship.


Do you have more suggestions or experiences from friends with cancer, or insight from your own cancer journey? Leave a comment below or share your perspectives on Twitter, @ModernMeds. I'd love to hear from you.