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Just Be Present: How to Help a Friend With Cancer
When we hear a friend has cancer, we immediately associate it with feelings of dread. We tend to think that cancer is an automatic death sentence, when in truth, there are many treatment methods available to increase the chances of survival. Plus, the overall cancer death rate has declined since the early 1990s, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Still, when a friend has cancer, we should be a present and reliable source of support. Even if our friend already has a family to turn to, we should be that additional member of the team who can help with anything, from running small errands to just being pleasant company for an afternoon. To better understand how you can provide support, HIS Breast Cancer Awareness offers the following guidance.
After your friend is diagnosed, make a point to find out what you can about their specific type of cancer so you can better understand the circumstances. Note, this is not so you can attempt to be an authority. This is simply to give you an idea of what they might be going through or what they can expect to experience. For example, if your friend has been diagnosed with leukemia, they will likely encounter symptoms such as swollen glands, anemia, fatigue, bone pain and even frequent infections. Knowing about these symptoms prepares you for what’s to come, allowing you a deeper awareness of what type of support they will need.
Be the Errand Runner
Offer to assist with practical errands, such as mailing letters and packages, picking up clothes from the cleaners, making trips to the grocery or department store, or taking your friend’s children to their extracurricular activities. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t just jump in and take on these tasks. Ask first. You don’t want to presume that your friend is incapable of doing something on their own or doesn’t have someone else helping them with a given task. Nevertheless, stand by, and be present and ready to take on whatever task your friend asks you to do.
Be the Financial Cheerleader
If your friend is having trouble paying hospital bills, don’t hesitate to take charge of crowdfunding efforts (with their permission, of course). Alternatively, you could begin selling products (such as artwork) and use the money earned to help alleviate the financial burden. Who knows? You may discover that you have a knack for this sort of work and want to research the requirements necessary to start your own nonprofit organization.
Be an Observer
If your friend has undergone surgery related to their cancer, chances are that their physician has prescribed an opioid painkiller. Used properly, these drugs are effective in reducing pain so that your friend can be comfortable during recuperation. However, the national opioid abuse epidemic has left many people concerned about the use of those drugs.
Without being a nag, encourage your loved one to be mindful of their pain management medication, and if you notice they have any of the symptoms of possible opioid abuse, contact a family member immediately. If your friend has no local family, report your concern to their physician or a social worker. But also remember that the signs of an addiction might also be the signs of your friend’s disease. It’s a tough call, so be discreet and delicate when relaying your concerns.
Be the Ear (or Heart) that Listens
“How are you?” is the most commonly-asked question of someone who has cancer. When you ask your friend that question, be prepared for an extremely short answer (“Fine” or “Okay,” for example) or a much longer, detailed one. In either case, simply listen to what your friend says.
If the answer is short, try not to press for more information. If your friend goes into detail, just sit and listen actively. Or, as the American Cancer Society says, listen with your heart. Put your own feelings aside, even though you might feel as if you could start crying any second, and focus on your friend. But if the tears come from either or both of you, let them. Finally, don’t worry if your friend doesn’t feel like talking. Being present just might be enough.
Your friend with cancer is already going through a lot. You don’t want to intrude and be another stressor they have to deal with. By just being present, available to help at any time, and a good listener, you can be a ready team member to help your friend face this disease.
Photo Credit: Pexels
Editor: Scott Sanders is the creator of Cancer Well, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. He is also the author of the book Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment.