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When a Friend is Coping With Cancer

Updated on June 4, 2016

Being a True Friend

When people have cancer, they often find out who their true friends are. Sometimes people react in ways that are unexpected or disappointing. It's not unheard of for friends to do a disappearing act, just when you need them most. This is usually because they don't know how to react.

Here is a very sad story. There were two women who were best friends. They did everything together. However, when one was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, the other headed for the exit.

She told her sick friend that she couldn't watch her suffer. So she wasn't around when her friend was going through the worst time of her life. She decided not to watch her friend struggle with the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. She chose not to help her take care of her two small children, or to swing by with a meal when her friend was too sick to cook.

Nor would she trouble herself with calling her friend, in an effort to cheer her up. There were no encouraging cards or notes. This woman made it clear that cancer was something she couldn't be a part of.

As her friend's illness progressed, and it was obvious she wasn't going to survive, an all-out effort was made to reestablish ties. But it was too late, because the friendship was lost.

Although this is a very extreme example of bad behavior, many people with cancer and other serious illnesses complain that the people they thought they could count on were not as available as they had hoped.

Part of this might be perception. Sometimes, when people are facing a life-threatening disease, other people don't know what to say, or how to react. So they stay away. But it's the wrong thing to do.

Friends Forever

Remaining loyal through the illness.
Remaining loyal through the illness. | Source

Expert Advice to How to React to Someone's Illness

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the first book featured, How to be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick, writes from first-hand experience as a breast cancer survivor. In her book, she explains that the reactions of some people surprised her. She helps guide you in what to say, and what not to say. Some of the information contained is based upon interviews with dozens of patients. What works for one person, she notes, will not be right for everyone.

Show Your Friend that Your Treasure Her

Send your sick friend flowers.
Send your sick friend flowers. | Source

Get Over Your Own Fears First

Part of the reason people stay away is because serious illness makes them face their own mortality. It frightens them, so they retreat.

However, right now, your friend needs you. This isn't about you, it's about her. Put yourself in her position. How would you feel if the people you loved the most, and depended upon the most, suddenly weren't around?

Someone battling cancer, or another life-threatening illness, has probably already reached the end of their emotional rope. They don't need a trusted companion bowing out, in the midst of this health crisis.

Even if you are afraid to see the ravages of illness, up close, try to get over it. Also, you can still call a lot and send a lot of cards. But please don't tell her you can't stand to see her in this condition. Keep that thought to yourself.

(Morguefile photo above by SDRandCo)

Organize a Meal Train

Perhaps nothing is more appreciated when fighting a serious illness is to have a nice, nutritious meal delivered. People with cancer need to eat good, healthy food, preferably organic, in order to boost their immune systems.

If your friend has young children, it's a safe bet that she's worried about them as much as she's worried about herself, if not more so. The last thing she should have to concern herself with is if they're eating right. They will be, on the night you bring dinner.

Eating well can make a huge difference in someone's chances of recovery, according to Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD, author of Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients. In addition to a nice organic meal, your friend also might appreciate a copy of his book on how to incorporate nutrition and the various supplements he recommends into their treatment strategy. Books such as this offer encouragement and hope, even when the prognosis is not good.

A Holistic Approach to Cancer

Dr. Blaylock, MD, recommends eating a very healthy diet with the right balance of healthy oils, as well as taking various cancer-killing supplements. He is a noted neurosurgeon who is now retired. In his book, he explains that patients who are too compliant, and don't do their own research, do themselves a great disservice.

A Fundraiser to Offset Expenses

Hold a fundraiser for your sick friend.
Hold a fundraiser for your sick friend. | Source

Helping Your Friend With Expenses

In addition to the loss of income from not being able to work, people fighting a serious illness are typically under great financial stress. Medical bills are often very high, regardless of whether insurance pays for part of the treatment. That's because co-payments adds up quickly and there are deductibles for prescriptions and procedures.

If she has chosen to fight her condition with alternative medicine, this can be expensive as well, since consultations and various recommended supplements will not be covered by insurance.

However, don't wait until your friend brings this up herself, because she probably won't. Instead, you can ask her how she'd feel about a benefit event to help defray medical costs. Even if she doesn't want you to do this, she'll probably just appreciate the thought.

Keeping Your Friend's Spirits Up


Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Cancer treatment has come a long way and there are a number of alternative options that have helped others, when conventional medicine had nothing more to offer. Do an Internet search and print some stories of hope and inspiration. Arrange them in a binder and give them to your friend, so she can read these when she's feeling defeated.

There are a number of very good resources available for helping cancer patients battle their condition with alternative therapy.

Dr. Russell Blaylock Discusses Natural Strategies for Cancer Patients

Have You Ever Helped a Friend Fight a Life-Threatening Disease?

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    • ologsinquito2 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      It is terrible to watch and so sad for all involved. I'm watching a loved one fighting this horrible disease right now too. Thanks for reading.

    • BodyHairRemoval profile image


      4 years ago

      This is extremely difficult to do. I've had my fair share of family members dealing with life threatening illnesses. I lost an Aunt a few years ago from cancer, it was just very difficult for family and friends


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