Finding out that someone close to us has cancer can be a scary experience. Feelings such as shock, confusion, sadness, dispair and guilt are common.
We want to support the person, but we worry about accidentally saying the wrong thing or doing something that makes them feel worse. Open communication is important. Explain to the person that you want to be supportive, but that you don’t know exactly how. Encourage them to speak out and be honest with you. And if they do – cherish that trust and don’t abuse it.
It’s okay to feel bad
When someone we care about feels bad, it is easy to fall into the trap of constantly trying to cheer them up or distract them. Sometimes, that is not what a cancer patient needs. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to bravely be with them in that bad feeling and support them in it, without desperately trying to shuffel away any hint of unpleasant feelings.
Encourage your friend to be open with you and let you know when they want to be cheered up, when they want to be distracted and when they want you to just be there for them and acknowledge their bad feelings.
Having cancer comes with a host of practical issues that needs to be solved. If you want to be useful, encourage your friend to ask you for help with practical stuff.
Make sure that they know that you actually want to help out – you are not just being polite. A lot of people will say things such as “just let us know if there is anything we can do tot help” and then just get annoyed if someone actually asks for help. Don’t be that person.
If you feel overwhelmed, set boundaries in a clear and respectful way.
Support groups aren’t just available for people with cancer; there are also groups designated for the friends and family members of cancer patients. Some are offline (local groups) and some are online.