Cancer is an equal opportunity disease that strikes at young and old, wealthy and poor. Every year more than 1.5 million new cancer diagnoses are made, and yet when it happens to someone that we know and love, it still comes as a shock. The natural and reaction to hearing that a friend has cancer is to want to help in some way, but knowing what the right thing is to do can be a challenge.
Some people are very private about their diagnosis and retreat into themselves, while others want as much support as possible. There is tremendous diversity in the wants and needs of those diagnosed with cancer, and it can be a challenge to guess what the right kind of support is for a particular individual.
Still, there are certain commonalities among most who are facing this disease, and the more that you understand, the more effectively you will be able to support them.
One thing that a cancer patient tires of very quickly is explaining the particulars of their disease. Though no two cases are exactly alike, you can learn a lot of basics on your own and save them the trouble of having to repeat themselves. The internet can be a tremendous source of information if you limit yourself to websites that are recognized authorities. Sites such as the American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic can provide you with a valuable education – and your friend will appreciate the level of understanding that you show.
Facing cancer is a frightening experience and those who have been diagnosed often undergo the same stages of grief that those who have lost loved ones do. They will also by turns feel afraid, combative, alone, or elated. Be ready for anything, and go with the flow – there are times when they will want to be cheered up and times when they’ll want to wallow a bit, and that’s okay too. The same holds true when they lose their hair or lose weight as a result of their treatment. Eliminate judgmental comments and replace them with words of encouragement or pleasure at seeing them or being with them.
You didn’t talk to them about cancer before they got sick so there’s no reason to do so now. Patients with cancer often express dismay at the fact that they ‘become their disease.’ Continue to engage them on the topics that your relationship revolved around prior to their diagnosis. • Instead of asking how you can help, offer specific things that you can do. People are prone to say no or offer few ideas when asked general questions, but if you suggest that you can take their kids to dance lessons or pick up groceries for the while you’re getting your own they are more likely to accept.
People who are diagnosed with cancer may cancel plans, be grumpy or snappish, and may even lash out at you. They are most likely reacting to their disease and their frustration – give them a pass and let it slide.
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