People tell me sometimes that I should write a book. I have no idea what this book should be about, but I think the topic I know the most about is this:
How to be the World’s Most Amazing Friend to Someone with Cancer.
I am not an expert on this because I am an amazing friend to others. God blessed me with an army of fabulous friends who loved me and supported me through nine months of cancer treatment and beyond. They have made me an expert on this topic.
Knowing that everyone reading this will someday know someone who is diagnosed with cancer, I thought I’d put all my friend’s wonderful ideas into writing. Please keep in mind that every cancer patient has different feelings, needs and desires. Your friend’s experience may be different from mine. Ask questions!
Also, I am writing about ways that women can support female cancer patients. I can barely understand my own husband, let alone what might go on in the mind of a man battling cancer.
Walking through cancer with a close friend looks very different than walking through cancer with an acquaintance or casual friend. So I will handle them in two separate posts. Today we will talk about how to support an acquaintance of casual friend who has been diagnosed with cancer.
1. Pray for her. Tell her you’re praying for her. Pray some more. As much as your encouraging words and actions will help, nothing is as powerful as bringing your friend before the throne of her Creator and Redeemer. Long after the doctors tell her she’s cancer-free, keep your friend on your list for frequent prayer.
2. Remember that everyone processes a cancer diagnosis differently. Don’t compare your friend’s reaction to her cancer diagnosis to other’s. Don’t assume she is feeling a certain way because that’s how you would feel. Ask lots of questions.
3. Realize that you don’t understand. Don’t pretend like you do. Don’t try to compare something else in your life experience to what she’s going through (unless you’ve had cancer or another life-threatening illness.)
When I had a family member going through cancer, I often related her symptoms to my pregnancies, because that was my closest experience to the fatigue and nausea she was having. Now I realize that even though I never said being pregnant was like having cancer, it may have come across that way and been extremely frustrating to her. (She was kind enough to never tell me that.)
4. Realize that having cancer can be isolating. So even though you don’t totally understand, avoid saying repeatedly that you just can’t imagine what she’s going through. Your friend with cancer doesn’t need to feel like this is so terrible that it isn’t even fathomable by anyone else. Just listen and empathize and try to understand as much as you can about what this is like for her.
5. Offer to help. Try not to say, “Let me know how I can help.” Even though you are sincere, your friend might not know how to take you up on this offer. Saying, “Can I bring you dinner?” is better. Or try saying, “I’d like to bring you dinner next week. Would Monday or Wednesday work?”
I had a friend let me know that she was available at specific times during the week and could drive my children to school. I really appreciated her specific offer and could easily match it to one of my needs. She drove my son to preschool each Tuesday throughout my treatment.
6. Let your friend say no to your offers of help. She may be overwhelmed by the influx of meals, she may not be comfortable with having someone else clean her house or care for her kids, or she may not be ready to accept help. Respect her no but keep asking gently and specifically from time to time.
7. If she has an unlimited text plan, use text messages to communicate frequently that you are thinking of her and praying for her. Don’t be afraid to call your friend. She will ignore you if she needs to. But text messages are a quick and non-intrusive way to remind her that you care.
Ask about her text plan first–I racked up $50 in text overage charges after I was diagnosed and was thankful to be retroactively switched to an unlimited messaging plan!
8. When you write her an email or text, say “You don’t have to write me back.” In the first few days after a cancer diagnosis, your friend is probably inundated with phone messages, emails and texts. It is overwhelming and time consuming if she feels that she needs to respond to all of them. And during treatment, she probably doesn’t have the energy to respond. She will appreciate your letting her off the hook whenever possible. This can apply to phone messages as well.
9. When you visit in person, make sure she sits down. Your friend may be too proud to ask you to come past the doorway or the entryway to sit with her. But she’s probably very tired and would appreciate having a seat while you chat.
10. Write her encouraging notes. The kind you put a stamp on. Getting notes in the mail is a wonderful surprise in these days of electronic communication. You can make your friend’s day by taking the extra time to send a handwritten note or Bible verse.
11. If your children attend school or church together, keep your sick kids at home. We’ve all been there. You want to pretend that your toddler with a low-grade fever is cutting teeth or that green snot coming out of their nose is allergies. But your friend needs her kids to stay healthy. If she is receiving chemotherapy, she may not have the white blood cells to fight infection, and a small virus could land her in the hospital. Please be considerate and take extra precautions to protect her family.
12. Throw her a Scripture shower. After I was diagnosed with cancer, a friend of mine asked my husband for the list Caring Bridge provides of email addresses of everyone who has viewed your site. She sent out a mass email asking them to mail me an index card with a Scripture and/or encouraging note. She sent me a ring to put them on and explained what she had done. For the next few weeks, my mailbox was flooded with index cards, many from people I don’t know. It was a tremendous blessing to me, and I cherish that stack of cards.
13. Rally the troops for a freezer meal drive. If you know your friend through school or a specific organization, you can ask others to make freezer meals for her family. Find out food allergies and dislikes first, and ask if she has freezer space. If her space is limited, you can keep them in your freezer (or a friend’s) and deliver them in small batches.
My son’s school did this for us, and it was a huge blessing in those early days when our appointment schedule was unpredictable. It can also be helpful after surgery, when she may not want people in and out of her home each day delivering meals.
14. Bring nutritious, quick breakfast and lunch food. When I had cancer, our church family and friends brought us dinner three times a week for several months. We never could have gotten through those months without them. But my kids wanted to eat three times a day, and my energy was limited. They ate a lot of Pop-Tarts! A few times, a friend brought a huge bag of homemade, (relatively) healthy blueberry pancakes for my freezer. They were easy and my kids loved them!
I would love to hear from other cancer survivors or their friends about other ways to encourage and serve a casual friend who has cancer. God was faithful to ease the burden of my cancer journey with the love and care of so many wonderful friends!Share