6 Ways to support a friend with cancer


1st Jan 2020 Wellbeing

6 Ways to support a friend with cancer

When a friend has cancer, it can be tricky to know how to act around them. Are you helping too much? Not enough? We spoke to two friends who have been there to get their advice. 

Cancer is something that we often discuss in the context of the patient, and rightfully so: if you're not experiencing the disease first-hand, it can be difficult to comprehend. However, this in itself can be a problem for people who are afflicted by cancer.

Friends and relatives who are understandably concerned, worried or upset about their loved one’s cancer diagnosis can sometimes struggle to know what to say or how to behave—and this can make navigating post-diagnosis relationships difficult.

Fabian and Sebastain supported each other through cancer

Two people who understand this better than most are Fabian Bolin and Sebastian Hermelin (above).

Fabian, 32, is a cancer survivor and Sebastian is his childhood friend. Their experience of cancer inspired them to co-found the social media app War On Cancer, which aims to support everyone affected by cancer by providing a safe space for stories about cancer, honest conversations and friendship forging.

Together, they have had first-hand exposure to the ways in which cancer can alter friendships, change important relationships, and make once effortless interactions and pastimes feel difficult to navigate for everyone involved.

Here, to commemorate World Cancer Day and International Friendship Month, Fabian and Sebastian share their thoughts on the things you should keep in mind when supporting a friend through a cancer diagnosis or treatment.


1. Be prepared

making a friend with cancer laugh

Your friend is about to get a lot of attention due to their diagnosis or the treatment they are going through. This means much of their day-to-day interactions, conversations, and time spent with friends and family will end up being cancer-orientated (which can be exhausting in itself).

Just being aware of this, and trying to provide relief when the opportunity arises, can be a tremendous way to show care and understanding to your friend.


2. Be inclusive

friends meeting up despite cancer diagnosis

If you and your friends are making plans, getting together or perhaps arranging to go to dinner, remember to invite your friend who is going through cancer. Never assume that your friend is too tired to join you.

Most often, they probably will be exhausted—but leaving it to them to say "no thank you", rather than excluding them, is a nice way to show support and make them feel included.


3. Be flexible

waiting for a friend

When you’re battling cancer, life can be unpredictable. Your energy levels, for example, can rise and fall like a roller coaster during the day. Sometimes, this means that plans you were previously looking forward to can suddenly seem unmanageable.

There is a chance that a friend going through cancer may have to change or alter plans last minute—trying to be understanding and flexible about this will be helpful to your friend or loved one.

4. Don’t change

distracting a friend with cancer

As much as possible, try and treat your friend as if the person didn’t have cancer. This doesn’t necessarily mean ignoring their diagnosis. Instead, it means consciously making the effort to maintain the relationship you had before-hand.

Honouring what you originally had in common, sharing the same activities or discussing the same topics as before is one of the best kinds of support you can give.


5. Don’t coddle your friend

coddle your friend

Showing you care is important, but you should also be mindful about how much care you offer. Caring too much—calling or texting constantly, pushing to always talk about their illness, or sending lots of gifts, for example—can cause the person with cancer to feel like a burden.

Do not try and "fix" things or compensate for a situation that is outside of your control. Offering help is important, but so is taking a step back and waiting for someone to ask for or invite it.


6. Don’t be afraid to laugh

how to make friend with cancer laugh

Don’t be scared to stay in touch with your playful side, make jokes, and laugh with your friend.

Staying positive and finding whatever joy and humour you can in life, especially when cancer has become a part of it, is very important.

Most friendships are built on a shared sense of humour—don’t shy away from this, and instead embrace it as much as possible.


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