When someone you love has cancer, it can be incredibly difficult to know how to act, what to say and how you can help.
However, it’s important to remember that there aren’t any rules. Just like your friendship and love are unique, so too is your relationship, and it’s this that you need to hold onto throughout this difficult time.
Don’t overdo things, be normal and keep it simple. Often, it’s the little things that are the most touching.
Prepare Yourself for the Journey Ahead
Firstly, you need to make sure you’re ready for the road ahead. Finding out that someone you love has cancer is incredibly difficult and emotional, which is why you need to be able to cope with your own emotions and feelings before trying to help them.
Take some time to look into your loved one’s diagnosis. You may find that they can’t talk about this with you, so try to gather the basics without pushing for too much information. And then try to look at things from your friend’s perspective. Think about how you’d want people to treat you, how you’d feel comforted and what you’d want to talk about.
You should also prepare yourself for any changes your friend may go through, such as hair loss, tiredness, and weight loss. Instead of commenting on these changes, greet your friend with positive comments such as, “It’s great to see you.”
What to Do When You’re Supporting Your Loved One
There are plenty of little things you can do to support your loved one in their time of need. But before you do these things, make sure they’re okay with what you want to do. Before you start asking questions, visiting them or planning things, find out if they want you to do this. Be clear that if they don’t want you to, that’s absolutely fine.
Once you understand what your loved one is comfortable with, start to make plans with them. Many people are scared to discuss the future with cancer sufferers, but it’s important that you create future events for them to look forward to. Plan days out, get-togethers and time together, making sure you fill these days with plenty of laughter. But don’t push away feelings of sadness, making sure you and your loved one embrace these when they arise. Suppressing your feelings will only make you feel worse.
Provide Practical Help to Your Loved One
One of the best ways you can support loved ones who are suffering from cancer is to offer practical help. Simple things such as helping them with daily chores can take a lot of pressure off their shoulders.
Ask them how you can help, and make it clear that you’re doing this because you love them and you don’t expect them to do it for you in return. They may find it helpful if you pick the kids up from school, walk the dog, do their grocery shop or even go for a walk with them.
It’s important to remain flexible during this time, though, because your loved one’s plans may change over time.
Join Support Groups with Your Loved One
If your friend wants to join a support group, they may appreciate it if you’ll go with them too. Support groups can even be found online, with hundreds of breast cancer survivor stories that can boost your loved one’s morale.
Attending these support groups or showing them what online communities there are can help your loved one come to terms with their condition. It can also enable them to reach out to others who are going through the same thing. Often, speaking to someone who understands what you’re going through can provide you with an immeasurable amount of support. You may even find it beneficial yourself, as you can speak to family and friends who have also had to support a loved one through their cancer journey.
You might even want to create your own support team, bringing together close family and friends who take part in various activities.
Continued friendships and support make the world of difference to someone who’s suffering from cancer. It can go a huge way toward the healing process. And, don’t forget that, even after they’ve been given the “all clear,” they still need support. Adjusting back to “normality” can take some time, so be sure to continue your support throughout this next important phase. Offering simple, practical suggestions can help them move forward.
Melissa Sakow is the Communications Director at SHARE Cancer Support, a non-profit organization founded in 1976 that is dedicated to building a network and community for women affected by breast and ovarian cancer.