Friendship is based on support, love, and trust, and when a friend’s life is flipped upside down due to a cancer diagnosis, it becomes crucial for other friends to know how to respond.
There are many ways to offer support to a friend with cancer, from simply showing up, listening, and keeping spiritual faith present in the friendship.
Below, Spiritual Care Support Ministries highlights a few important ways to support your friend that recently received a life-changing diagnosis.
Stay in touch
Your friend needs you from the point of initial cancer diagnosis to beyond the conclusion of treatment. One of the most important ways to support your friend is to simply be there for them and to treat them the same as you always have.
Show your friend you care by calling, visiting, and sending texts or notes. Call during times that work best for your friend and return messages right away. Ask before you visit and keep visits short and regular rather than infrequent and long. Watch movies or read while your friend naps – the point is to be with them and to take away some of the isolation and loneliness they may feel.
Make flexible plans with your friend that gives them something fun to look forward to but which can be changed if needed.
Ask appropriate questions and show interest in their condition rather than avoiding the topic.
Listen to your friend
The most important aspect of communicating with your friend with cancer is often not what you say, but the way you listen. Try to truly hear your friend and listen between what they are saying to reach a new level of understanding. Know that you will never truly understand what your friend is going through, and refrain from acting as if you do.
Let your friend focus on things they enjoy, like sports or hobbies, and give them an active role in your friendship by asking them their advice on things going on in your own life. Support your friend’s feelings and let them be negative or silent as needed. Avoid offering your own medical advice or opinions (unless your friend has specifically asked you for it), and remind them that you care and want to listen when they feel like talking.
Offer practical help
Practical help with daily tasks often proves invaluable to friends with cancer. Give specific suggestions of things you can help with rather than asking the broad question of, “how can I help?” This question may be overwhelming to your friend when they have so many other things on their mind and most people, no matter their situation, feel uncomfortable asking for help.
Suggest specific tasks to help with, such as picking up groceries or prescriptions, helping with chores around the house, or helping to take care of their pets (walking the dog, maintain litterboxes, feeding, etc.). Offer to babysit for a few nights a week or drive their children to their activities.
Try to add in some time to help your friend’s caregivers by stepping into their role for a few hours per week so they can go out and do something for themselves. Run errands for the caregiver and work with the caregiver to figure out the best ways you can help support your friend through daily tasks.
Focus on faith
Chronic illnesses like cancer can take a toll on one’s faith; while some feel betrayed by God after a cancer diagnosis, others cling to His mercies to get them through the illness. Support your friend by helping them focus on their faith however you feel comfortable. Offer to pray with them, read scriptures to them, and if permitted, share their story with your church family and ask for prayers and other assistance as needed.
Forging faith can encourage hope and optimism, characteristics your friend needs to get through their diagnosis and treatment. Remind them that God’s grace is present and it’s important to place their trust in Him. Keeping Christ at the core of your conversations will help remind your friend to put on the armor of God.
Find counseling and spiritual support for yourself and your friend from Spiritual Care Support Ministries, providing compassionate care and emotional healing to generate strength and hope through your journey. Encourage your friend to join SCSM’s chronic illness support group or to find support through one-on-one counseling. This can be done at the SCSM center or via Skype or Facetime if you are out of the area.