When a Friend Is Diagnosed with Cancer

What did you do when a good friend was diagnosed with cancer? How do you react? How did you feel?

I remember being shocked and stunned for days when my friend was diagnosed with cancer. She was slightly younger than me and I couldn’t believe it was happening to her and her young family. I thought how easily it could be me in her shoes and brought into stark reality my own mortality.

“Two things stand like stone: kindness in another’s trouble, and courage in our own.” – Adam Lindsay Gordon

I really wanted to help as good friends do. But my offers fell on deaf ears as she was too terrified to think straight.

I didn’t insist on following up as I was worried that I might be overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and loss if I was back in the thick of it. I was just a young girl when my father was diagnosed with cancer and all those memories suddenly resurfaced. It was in this context, that I felt saddest for her children. I knew what they were going through.

Fortunately she had a close extended family that rallied round as she started on the cancer treadmill and the months of upheaval, overwhelm and uncertainty that followed.

It would have been much easier for me to stay away and let her family just get on with it. But I had to think how I would feel if my friend abandoned me at a time when I needed her most.

So I had to examine my capacity to help my friend in a way that still supported her but would not overwhelm me. I was also time and cash poor. But if I was really honest, I was not too keen on getting up close and personal with the physical aspect of cancer again. I had been there too many times and it left me feeling wretched.

Instead I chose to support her emotionally, rather than practically or financially. I did this by acknowledging her pain and just being there for her. She could talk, cry or sit in silence and just be. I was always available by text or phone, and I visited when I could. And when I couldn’t be there, I would send her a card to let her know I was thinking of her. She said that helped tremendously on the difficult days, of which there were many during chemo.

I helped her by remembering the unique and wonderful person she still was behind the cancer label. And if I did put my foot in it by saying the wrong thing, she knew I meant well. We were both finding our way down this new path our friendship was on.

My friend was the same person I had always known and loved. But perhaps now a little more scared and lonely. As was I. But together we would find a way.

Your friends need you most when the chips are down. What type of friend will you be when cancer rears its ugly head?


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