5 Ways to Support a Newly Diagnosed Friend

Nothing is harder than hearing the words, “You have cancer.”  It is a devastating blow and, for friends and family, the news is incredibly heartbreaking as well.  When you hear that your friend or family member has cancer, the immediate instinct is to want to make it better or help them in some way.  But, many will often find that coming up with the best way to help a family member or friend can be difficult.  Many people want to find a balance between helping and overstepping.  Doing a favor, and intruding.  The type of help you offer will depend greatly on two factors:  how well you know the person who has been diagnosed and what stage of cancer they have been diagnosed with.  Below are a list of ways to help a friend or family member during their time of need while they manage the emotions and illness.

  1. When You Don’t Know What To Say – Just Be There
    • Many people that have never been diagnosed with cancer struggle to come up with the right words to comfort a loved one that has been diagnosed.  What many realize is that often, there are no right words.  When you just do not have words to make it better, just be there for your loved one.  There is no rule that you must say something that will make it better, simply visiting with your loved one and offering a hug can sometimes be the most comforting thing you can do.
  2. Finding the Words
    • It comes from a loving place but sometimes saying certain things will not really help.  Avoid phrases like, “Don’t worry, it will all be ok.”  While this is a nice thought and encouraging, you cannot guarantee that it will be ok.  Also, do not dismiss the loved one’s feelings about their diagnoses by saying things like ,”Don’t say that, try to be positive!”  Dismissing their valid fears and concerns can make them feel alienated.  Additionally, avoid things like saying that you “know how they feel” unless you have been diagnosed with cancer.  This can be a frustrating thing to hear to someone who has actually been diagnosed with cancer.  Allow the loved one to steer the conversation and take their cues for how the conversation will go.
  3. Help Them Build a Team of Support
    • It may not be everyone’s first instinct to ask for help.  If you get the ok from your loved one, offer to build a small team of support for them to help with things like meals, rides, errands, laundry, cleaning and whatever else they may need.  While many people will not directly ask for these things, help with them would be a welcome and significant relief.
  4. Offer Specific Help
    • Many people will often say, “Let me know how I can help you.”  While this is a nice sentiment, it is not specific enough and many people will say thank you and then ignore it because it feels uncomfortable to ask.  Depending on how well you know the person, offer specific help that you know will directly  life a little easier for them.
  5. Do Normal Things
    • Do not allow the cancer to significantly change your relationship with your loved one.  With clearance from their physician, do the things you have always done together or that you know they love.  Go on hikes or bike rides, go to the movies, enjoy an art class or go to the mall.  Spend time being normal because this will help keep your loved one’s spirits up.

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