Are you one of those people who have a really difficult time visiting a friend with cancer, especially one who looks and feels very sick? You’re not alone. There’s no doubt that it’s tough and often awkward to see a friend or loved one in discomfort. These 12 practical tips can help you show your support in a comforting way.
If you have a loved one or friend with cancer, you may be wondering how to deal with visiting them. You want to help them through this difficult time, but visiting a friend with cancer is difficult. It can be hard to know what to say or do. Of course, there are no set rules to help, but these 12 practical suggestions may help you show your support.
1. Preparing yourself
Before visiting a friend with cancer, learn more about the diagnosis. Your friend may not want to talk about the details for many reasons, including that it is physically and emotionally tiring to repeat the same information to different people. If possible, the person’s spouse or a mutual friend may be able to give you the basics, perhaps via a group e-mail. And if there’s extra information that you’d like to know but is not shared, don’t push for it.
2. Always ask permission
Before visiting your friend with cancer, before offering advice, before asking questions. And make it clear that saying no is perfectly okay. Make flexible plans that can be easily changed in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule. Make a weekly check-in phone call. Let the patient know when you will be calling and that it’s okay to not answer the phone.
3. Make 100 percent sure you are healthy
If not, stay at home. Cough or sneeze into a tissue, wash your hands and wear a surgical mask if necessary– personal hygiene is the foundation of infection control, says Susan O’Rourke, RN, of the Center for Patient Safety at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US.
4. emember that a friend with cancer is first and foremost just that, your friend
This is the same person you’ve always known. Try to relate to them in the same way you have in the past. The pleasure you give by visiting them will be appreciated. When words seem too little, a hug, a look or a touch can say a lot. If their appearance has changed, perhaps they’ve lost their hair, start your visit by saying ‘It’s good to see you’ instead of commenting on any physical changes. Leave when you see that they getting tired.
5. Don’t be afraid to shed a few tears
It’s all right to show your feelings and to cry, although try to control yourself before the patient has to start comforting you. If you can’t contain your tears, keep your visits short.
6. Offer to help with domestic tasks
You can help with taking care of children or fetching them from school, looking after a pet or preparing a meal. Would your friend with cancer like you to shop for groceries? Pick up prescriptions? Help with domestic chores? Collect the mail? Take out the rubbish? Arrange for a gardener? Drop off meals? Buy birthday or Christmas presents? Organise a phone chain or support team to rally round? Offer your friend with cancer lifts to appointments or support group meetings, or to go for a walk. Many people find it hard to ask for help and will probably appreciate the offer. If they decline, don’t take it personally.
7. Talk about topics not related to cancer
All people battling potentially terminal diseases need a break from talking about medical matters. Your friend with cancer will feel the same. Be amusing when appropriate and always be prepared to listen when they talk. Try not to chatter because you are nervous; silence can be comforting and may encourage the patient to better express their thoughts and feelings.
8. Try saying:
- I’m sorry this has happened to you
- If you ever feel like talking, I am here to listen
- What are you thinking of doing and how can I help?
- I care about you
- I don’t know what to say (which is far more helpful to your friend with cancer than to simply stop calling or visiting out of fear).
9. Try not to say:
- I know just how you feel (you don’t really)
- You need to talk (they’ll let you know)
- This is what you should do (you’re not the doctor)
- I feel helpless
- I’m sure you’ll be fine
- Don’t worry
- How much time have the doctors given you?
- Also, don’t tell your friend with cancer about your cousin who either succumbed to cancer or is a survivor. The patient has his or her own problems to deal with.
10. Most of all, be yourself
Try not to worry about whether you are doing things the right way. Let your words and your actions come from your heart. Your compassion and genuine caring for your friend with cancer are the most important things you can express.
11. You may want to give your friend a gift
If you’re a close friend, give your friend with cancer something really silly or unusual; if you’re a work colleague, stick with something more traditional. Don’t, however, give your friend or loved one anything that promotes a specific treatment or philosophy as a cure for cancer. Respect their choices – they’ve been made after a lot of thought and professional advice. Instead, the American Cancer Society suggests that you keep gifts fun, interesting, serious or light – magazines, audio books, novels, collections of short stories or poetry, playing cards, CDs or gift cards for downloadable music, DVDs of movies, favourite TV shows or documentaries; accessories such as scarves, make-up and beauty products, crossword or Sudoku puzzles, a journal, a DVD of family and friends, gift certificates for a massage or facial, a house-cleaning service, hobby kits such as needlepoint or scrapbooking, pyjamas or a gown. Avoid plants or flowers, which can harbour fungal spores.
12. Keep up the support once treatment is over
Your caring support can make a lasting difference to a loved one or friend with cancer.