By Marissa Henley, local cancer survivor and author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer
Has this happened to you? Your phone buzzes, and you look down to see a call from a friend who’s expecting biopsy results.
The minute you hear her voice, you know: it’s cancer.
As you process your shock, sadness and fear, you wonder how you should walk this road with your friend. How will you support her as she endures treatment and survivorship? How will you avoid doing or saying the wrong thing? What does she need most?
I endured several months of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, most of which took place at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. My besties kept my household running, meals showed up three times a week, and the prayers of thousands encouraged and sustained me.
I wish every cancer-fighter could feel as loved and supported as I was. But too often, friends lack confidence and hesitate to reach out with supportive words and actions. If you haven’t already had a friend face cancer, it’s likely you will.
When that phone call comes, here are three simple ways to love your friend through cancer:
1. Don’t just “like” her updates—leave a comment.
Does your friend post online updates to a blog or social media site? You could “like” her post (and please do!), but she won’t be certain you actually read it. Commenting on her updates is a simple way to show support and doesn’t require her to respond.
Writing a comment can feel risky if you don’t know what to say. Keep these tips in mind:
- Short comments are fine!
- Keep your comments about her, not about you. This isn’t the time to tell her how upset you are about her illness.
- Acknowledge what’s happening: “I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been feeling sick lately!”
- Let her know you care: “I’m praying for you and your family.”
2. Make specific offers of help and let her tell you “no.”
Your friend with cancer will hear this over and over again: “Let me know how I can help!” She knows many of these offers come from a sincere desire to serve; others are flippant words spoken by someone who doesn’t know what else to say.
You can prove your sincerity by making your offer as specific as possible. Think about where your lives intersect and how you can help.
- Do you drive by her child’s preschool on your way to work? Are your kids on the same soccer team? You could offer to give her child a ride.
- Do you have a specific pocket of free time each week when you could commit to serving her? Ask what she needs during that time—offer to clean her house or take her to run errands if she’s unable to drive.
- Are you a terrible cook with terrific technological skills? Offer to set up a master meal calendar and then sign yourself up to bring her take-out!
Once you’ve made your offer, let her tell you “no.” She may not be ready to accept help. She may be clinging to as much normalcy as possible, for herself or for her kids. If she turns you down, tell her you’ll check in with her again in a few weeks to see if things have changed. Make a note to follow up later with another specific offer.
3. Let her know you’re with her for the long haul.
After my diagnosis, I kept apologizing to my friends. The next several months would be difficult for them, and I hated that reality.
One of my friends finally sat me down and said: “Marissa, you say this is an assignment from the Lord. Well, He didn’t give this assignment only to you. He gave it to us as well.”
Because of her comment and many others, I knew my friends were with me for the long haul, no matter what. I didn’t have to worry that when the newness of my crisis wore off, they would move on.
You can love your friend through cancer by repeatedly letting her know you’re with her. Text her and say, “You’re not alone in this! I’m praying for you.” Let her know you’re by her side for as long as she needs you. Even if her treatment is brief, she will need emotional support as a survivor, too.
Your friend needs your compassionate support. Show her your concern by responding to her updates. Make specific offers and act on them if she accepts. And be a friend she can rely on for as long as it takes.
More about Marissa: Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend Through Cancer, is a follower of Christ, wife, mom, and cancer survivor who writes about faith, friendship, and cancer at www.marissahenley.com. Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around in a minivan, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating.