What to do when your friend is diagnosed with cancer: 4 do’s & don’ts

When a friend is diagnosed with cancer, you may feel insecure about how best to react. Perhaps you try avoiding the subject, afraid that you might say something wrong. Or you swamp your friend with well-intentioned yet unsolicited advice. Drawing on our personal experience, we provide you with a few tips on what does and certainly does not help.


Do’s: this will be of real help to your friend with cancer


1. Reach out regularly
With a simple message, e-mail or phone call you show your friend that you are thinking about him or her, that you care, and that you have got their back.  

2. Offer specific, practical help
Why not look after the kids after school some time, drop by their house with some homemade comfort food or offer to take care of the groceries? Don't just stick to the no-strings-attached cliché “let me know if there's anything I can do” but take some real action. 

3. Schedule something fun to do together
Gong for a walk, sipping on a cappuccino downtown, enjoying a lunch date ... A relaxing break on a day your friend is feeling good will help them take their mind off their illness and break away from it all for a little while. 

4. Drive your friend to the hospital or accompany them to the doctor's appointment
Treatment or check-ups are always stressful. Accompanying your friend to the hospital can be reassuring. You can also indicate you wouldn't mind going in with them to see the doctor.

 friend with cancer how to help

Don’ts: what to avoid if a friend gets cancer 


1. Do not dismiss the diagnosis
And more importantly, do not go avoidingyour friends becauseof their illness. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable around the subject, just go ahead and say so. “I don’t know what to say, but …” is always a good place to start.

2. Do not offer unsolicited (medical) advice
You're not their doctor. You're their friend. Similarly, well-intended parallels to an aunt or nephew also dealing with cancer won't do your friend any good. Leave the medical aspects to the professionals. 

3. Don’t change the way you treat your friend
No one benefits from pity. It is perfectly understandable that you might want to show more understanding or consideration in your friendship than usual. However, if you used to poke fun and mock one another all the time, you should continue to do so, even with the cancer diagnosis out there. Behind the veil of the disease still lurks the same person.

4. Don’t go minimising the situation
Of course, it helps to look at the bright side, but do not simply shrug off your friend's fears and anxieties. Truly listen to what concerns him or her and most of all: show understanding.