A cancer diagnosis is a life-altering event for those diagnosed as well as for their friends and family. Unfortunately, cancer occurs far too often. The National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results program estimated that in 2009, more than 12.5 million Americans were living with a cancer diagnosis. Breast and prostate cancers were the two most common types.
A cancer diagnosis can be very scary for the patient and their family members. As a friend, you may feel helpless and unsure about what you can do, but you can be helpful and supportive in many ways during this time of need.
It is important to learn as much as you can about your friend’s diagnosis and treatment regimen. Perhaps your friend is willing and able to talk about it, but note that this can be an especially emotional subject and time, especially for those recently diagnosed.
Let them tell you what they want you to know and don’t push for more information. You can also learn about a diagnosis from family members, other friends, physicians, helplines and various educational resources. Knowing this information can help you better understand and prepare yourself for the disease and treatments and be more empathic to your friend.
Before visiting, call ahead and ask permission. If your friend has recently undergone chemotherapy or radiation, they may be too tired for visitors. Let them know it’s OK to say no. If they say no, you may want to make plans to visit in the future when they are feeling better. You can also set up a time to talk weekly on the phone. Let your friend know it’s OK if they don’t feel like answering when you call.
Many times, cancer, its treatment and subsequent emotions can be overwhelming, so it may be hard for your friend to pinpoint ways you can help. Offer to help with specific tasks, such as babysitting, caring for a pet, shopping for groceries, doing laundry or preparing a meal for the family.
You may also want to ask a spouse or family member for other things you can do to be helpful. Realize that they may decline your offer and if they do, you shouldn’t take it personal.
Treat your friend as normal as possible. Offer to go for a walk with him or her. Talk about mutual hobbies and interests. If you both are interested in crafts, do a project together. Let them know you care and are thinking about them. Also let them know you’re there if they ever need to talk.
Avoid giving medical advice. While someone in your family may have had the same diagnosis, each individual’s condition and treatment may vary, and their treatment regimen is a decision they should make with guidance from their doctor.
Additional information about family life topics is available at the Franklin County Extension Service, 101 Lakeview Ct., 502-695-9035.
Sources: Amy Hosier, extension specialist in family life education, and the American Society of Clinical Oncology