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Helping Friends With Cancer

Updated on August 14, 2014

by Michele Adams

I thought I'd make an entry FROM a cancer patient, TO either a friend/family member or a newly diagnosed cancer patient, on how best to help the patient and their family.

A new diagnosis is pretty hard to take. Some cry, some break down, some even give up- right from the start. Most will be in shock well into their chemo/radiation/surgery cycles.

Here are some things you can do to help, in no particular order.

1) Just listen. Sometimes that means more than you can ever say. If you don't have the words to encourage, then just sit there and listen. Admonishing behaviors, sharing new "cures", asking to confess suppressed sin, and such are just not needed at this stage. What meant more to me than anything in the world, was a friend who came to my first chemo and just sat with Tom and I. She had "been there/done that", and her just sharing our space and making casual conversation was more than we could have ever asked for at the time. Take a lesson from the book of Job. Who did God admonish? The "helpful" friends.

2) Get some fundraisers going. We had NO idea what was about to hit us when we were first diagnosed, but a lady down the road did. She gathered our neighborhood up and had a Pancake Dinner fundraiser. This helped us more than we can ever vocalize. She knew what was coming, way before the first bill arrived in our mailbox. This kept our head above water for our first 6 months, until we could catch our breath. In Acts it says"...that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need."

3) Don't share. Someone who is going through cancer does not need to hear that Dr. Suchnsuch from the Dominican Republic has a cure. Cancer can't be cured by a special diet, or by taking a special shot, or by a "voodoo" healer with a feathered hat. While it all looks good on paper, we are putting our health in the doctor's hands. If you don't trust your Dr. 100% that he/she is doing everything possible to save your life, then FIND A NEW DR. My Dr. is my general. She calls the shots, I follow her instructions to the T. She keeps herself up to date on on the newest/better drugs and is working diligently to save my life, and the lives of the other patients. While I read and appreciate the good intentions behind people sending me the latest "cancer cures", I mostly delete and shake my head. Prayer works. My God is a healer, and sometimes He uses chemo/radiation/surgery to heal. Sometimes He calls us home to heal us in eternity. Questioning and what ifs will never help.

4) PRAY. This is the most important thing you can do as a patient/loved one/friend. Where two or more are gathered, God is there. Pray for comfort, healing, peace, finances, family, etc. Nothing you can do will be more powerful...even if the patient (or family) is not a believer. In James 4 it says, "Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up."

5) Send cards and letters. While the patient may not respond or even read them for a while, one day he/she will dig into those cards and feel the love behind the written words. If you don't know what to say, simply write "praying" (but only IF you REALLY ARE) or "thinking of you". Gift cards, even "if only" a $5 Sonic card meant a lot to me.

6) Support the family/spouse. Go out for coffee. Send a text. Make a phone call. Mow their yard. Do something to help them. While the patient is battling for his/her life, the spouse will feel so helpless to do anything. Sometimes they need more comfort that the patient him/herself.

7) Don't make offers you aren't willing to back up. I can count on one hand how many times someone has said "let me know if I can do anything", only to not have anyone be able to help. That is good news, because that means that almost every time someone has stepped up and helped, who said they would. However I still remember the ones who made the empty promises...and it stings. Be faithful to your words. If you can't do it, that is OK, just don't promise what you can't pull off. Matthew 5, "Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ ...All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’..."

8) Judge not! Sometimes the patient or family will lash out and show some bad behavior. Maybe it's cussing or drinking or something that they normally have never done. Maybe it's a facebook post that you don't like. Whatever it is, ignore, and don't judge. You can come alongside and help them out, but sometimes it's a "phase" that they need to get out of their system. Matthew 18 tells us, “If your brother or sister sins,go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. " Notice it does not say, "if they say something you don't like" or the such, but IF THEY SIN. Ignoring the bad behavior is probably the best thing to do...and praying.

9) Have I mentioned the importance of prayer yet?

10) Be yourself! Sometimes it's just awkward to be around the cancer patient or their families. You feel so helpless to them. Above all else, just be yourself. Don't try to act encouraging if that is not in your personality. Instead be the same old prude you usually are, just with a touch more tact. Try not to break down in tears every time you are together, but sometimes tears help.

Above all else, just be there...whether in spirit or in person.

© 2014 Michele Adams


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    • no body profile image

      Robert E Smith 

      4 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I have cancer that goes in my family. I have people who never get sick in my family. Here I am listening to you and can see that you are brave and courageous and more importantly, a child of God relying on Him. It makes me happy I know you. So many people would choose to say empty things or to say it was their strength that mattered through it all. But I hear you say that it was prayer, God's strength and His grace that gets you through. I make a lot of promises to pray (which is the main reason I keep a Facebook account). I pray for every person that I am reminded by picture or thought or even dream. I am not good with prayer lists. I lose them or lose the memory but I am good with pictures. I will do what I can to remember you continually in my prayers. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. Thank you for helping make people strong in your weakness. Thank you for standing by God and loving Him through all this. Thank you. Bob.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      4 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      excellent advice. My grandmother had cancer 3 times yet lived to be 94.


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