Helping Friends to Help You



Helping Friends to Help You

Asking for Support

     ← Be gentle with yourself

The Journey through cancer is easier when you hear the footsteps of a friend beside you.

The journey through cancer is a journey into the unknown. No one know how to respond, or what to do to help, let alone how to be encouraging and supportive. All anyone can do is to be understanding, not only with you the person effected with cancer, but also with the family members. Children may become disruptive or defiant, partner sand friends may pull away and be unresponsive. These are not signs of them being uncaring or unloving; it is a sign of their own stress and knowing how to respond. 


Developing a solid support system means surrounding yourself with friends or family members who care about you and want what’s best for you. If you need comforting in the midst of pain, someone’s hand will be there to grab onto, to be a lifeline. It is crucial to surround yourself with supportive people to help you through the tough times and also celebrate the joyous occasions with you.

Family and friends can support you in many ways. But, they may wait for you to give them hints or ideas about what to do, to provide understanding, loving and uplifting support for you, tailored to your needs. They can form a "Team" and respond in an organized and helpful way to help you through the life – changing event of having cancer.  People feel good when they help others.


Often people feel more at ease when you ask them something specific, like to cook a meal or pick up your children after school. There are many ways that family, friends, other people who have cancer, spiritual or religious leaders, and health care providers can help. In turn, there are also ways you can help and support your caregivers . Help your family and friends to help you, but don't let their reaction suppress your needs.


Finding out that you have cancer is distressing enough. You are trying to manage you fears and worries and carry on with whatever needs to be done. You might find, however, that you are not only trying to deal with your own reactions but those of people around you as well. Just as you experience a range of feelings, those close to you will be coping with their own shock, sadness, fear and worry for you. How others manage these feelings can cause you surprise and may not react as you expect. You are bound to experience a range of reactions from people you tell.


Some people you love will disappoint and not rise to the occasion, and some people you never expected will be your biggest supporters. 

People do react differently when a friend or a relative has a serious health problem. Some are warm and show endless care and concern. Others find it difficult to accept, but manage to built up just sufficient strength and courage t show concern. And then are those who just shy away from any of adversity. It may takes time to understand what support others are able and comfortable to give. 


         When Friends Don't Call

Friends (and Family members) have Feelings about Your Cancer too. Just as you have strong feelings about cancer, your family or friends will react to it as well. For instance, your friends or family may:

  • Hide or deny their sad feelings
  • Find someone to blame for your cancer
  • Change the subject when someone talks about cancer
  • Act mad for no real reason
  • Make jokes about cancer
  • Pretend to be cheerful all the time
  • Avoid talking about your cancer
  • Stay away from you, or keep their visits short

 Be prepared that some people say No

"The people that I had thought would help me weren't there. It was the ones that I really didn't expect to help that were right there saying, 'I'm here for you. What can I do?'" 

"I was disappointing by some people's reactions and heartened by unexpected kindness and sympathy of others." B. D.

Some people are not capable of handling personal difficulties. Patients and caregivers, need to understand not everyone has the capacity or tools to handle a crisis of another. This knowledge does not make it any easier for you as you walk through process of dealing with disease. In my practice patients and caregivers talk about friendships won and lost since diagnosis. Some are surprised and profoundly saddened by the lack of support from those expected to help the most.


However, many happily note those friends, family, and even strangers who surprise them with support in a time of great need. They are the ones who are there, who listen instead of trying to fix things, who are present for you in any way you need them. Some people you love will disappoint and not rise to the occasion, and some people you never expected will be your biggest supporters. 

You may be surprised, even hurt, by some people's reaction to your new. Some people can't seem to mention the word "cancer"; others can't talk about anything else. Some people will jolly you along as if by making you feel better they can feel better themselves.

Some people feel too uncomfortable to know how to communicate. It can feel very hurtful when people from whom you expect support seem to avoid you. Very often this is because the person is afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. 

Sometimes people may not be able to help. This may hurt your feelings or make you angry. It may be especially hard coming from those you expected to help you. You might wonder why someone wouldn't offer to help. Some common reasons are:

  • Some friends may feel uncomfortable talking about cancer. They may be feel helpless.
  • Family and friends can sometimes find talking about the potential prognosis morbid, and may downplay the seriousness of your illness as they cannot cope with it. This can make you feel you have to protect to protect their feelings and can result in you feeling alone and resentful.
  • People may be coping with their own problems. Or they may not have enough time.
  • People are afraid of cancer or may have already had a bad experience with cancer. They don't want to get involved and feel that pain again.
  • Some believe it's best to keep a distance when people are struggling.
  • Sometimes people don't realize how hard things really are for you. Or they don't understand that you need help, unless you ask them  for it directly.
  • Some people feel awkward because they don't know how to show they care.

Recognize the relationships that matter. Do not focus on repairing relationships that were not strong to begin with. Invest your time and energy in the people that truly nurture and love you.

You may notice changes in how people act around you after you tell them the news. People may feel uncomfortable because they do not know what to say or how to act, they have little experience with life-threatening illnesses, like cancer. Your cancer may be frightening to some because it is a reminder that cancer can happen to anyone.

Others may have lost a loved one to cancer and your diagnosis may bring up painful memories. For these reasons, some of your friends or family may not be able to offer you the support you expected. Although this is painful, try to remember that their reactions are not a reflection of how much they care about you.

Some friends may act awkward and distant, while others will continue to be themselves. Some may even seem to be too nosy or overly helpful. It will take time for all of you to adjust to cancer and get more comfortable talking about it. With time most people are able to share understanding, compassion, and friendship. Giving your loved ones information and a chance to ask questions can be helpful as you work through this time together.

If people aren't giving you the help you need, you may want to talk to them and explain your needs.

Or you can just let it go. But if the relationship is important, you may want to tell the person how you feel. This can help prevent resentment or stress from building up. These feelings could hurt your relationship in the long run.

Decide what kind of support would help you most and then seek contact with those people who can give you that support. Think about people who can help you with tasks.Think about creating a network rather relying on one or two people. Besides friends and family, think of all the people and groups you and your loved one know. Some examples are neighbors, coworkers, and members of your faith community.  Support can have many facets and it is unfair to expect one person to be able to meet all your needs.


Make a list and write the names of people who you think would fill the need.

“If you can place yourself in the company of people who are infused with spirit, their energy gives you spark and facilitation - a confidence boost. Fortunately, the electricity of spirit is contagious. When this positive energy of well-beingness circulates through your system, people often refer to you as being ‘lit up.’”–Benjamin Disraeli



 Choosing a Good Time to Talk

It's often hard for other people to know when to talk about cancer. Sometimes people send a signal when they want to talk. They might:

  • Bring up the subject of cancer

  • Talk about things that have to do with cancer, such as a newspaper story about a new cancer treatment that they just read.

  • Spend more time with you

  • Act nervous or make jokes that aren't very funny.

You can help people feel more comfortable by asking them what they think or how they feel. Sometimes people can't put their feelings into words. Sometimes, they just want to hug each other or cry together.


People, diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses are often notorious for trying to go alone. They don't want to burden their friends  and sometimes they just can't muster the energy to ask them. You need your friends. You need all the resources you can call on right now. They can support you and help you.

Some people will offer you their support and friendship and be at ease with you, while others may be unable to handle your illness and may keep away altogether. Often it may seem as though you are the one who has to be strong and help others to cope with your cancer.


Explain exactly what type of response is most helpful to you.

Don't be afraid to tell people about what's happening with you. Teach them. Explain what kind of cancer you have and the treatments you'll need. Tell them that cancer is not a death sentence, nor is it something they can "catch." The best thing you can do for each other is to be honest about your feelings. People often have fears about the future. Once these feelings are shared, most people find it easier to talk about hopes and plans for the future.


Many people may be looking for the ‘right' things to         say to you, and they may say things, which sound           inane, insincere or hurtful. If you can be open about     your cancer and bring up the topic in a relaxed manner,  they may relax too.

Sometimes it is difficult to deal with people who ask questions or comment about things that you are sensitive or unsure about. For example, they may ask about how  you look or what it feels like to have cancer or treatment. Avoiding the issue altogether usually makes things harder as it may prolong people's curiosity or difficulty. There may, however, be a few people with whom you can truly relax, talk openly, laugh, cry, or simply be silent. Often these are the people that you are normally close to and open with.


Some friends and family members may avoid talking with you because they just don't know what to say. Others may avoid talking about cancer for fear of upsetting you. Friends who avoid you when you have cancer can cause you a great deal of hurt and sorrow. 
It is important to realise, however, that their reaction has nothing to do with you personally. There are a variety of reasons why people keep away. Some people are frightened and threatened by cancer, and cannot face their own fears of illness and death. Others might keep away because they do not know what to say to you. People often think it is safer to say nothing than risk saying the wrong thing. They may also be afraid of their emotional response to your cancer. Their absence does not necessarily mean they no longer care about you.


If you feel like talking about your cancer, bring the subject up with your friends and family and let them know that it's okay for them to talk about it. Reassure them that you don't expect them to have answers; you just want someone who will listen and understand your feelings. It is also okay to tell people when you just don't want to talk about your cancer - sometimes you might just want to talk about normal things or just laugh with your friends. 


The longer the silence, the harder it is for either person    to break it. A quick telephone call will show that you want to keep in contact, and often, though not always, this will dissolve the barrier. It is easier to withdraw from your usual social circle if you are feeling unwell or worrying those things will be difficult or challenging. You may need to weigh things up and decide what's best for you. If you can keep in contact with your friends it will help them.

Clarify Their Role

After sharing the news of your diagnosis, family and friends may offer practical help such as helping out      with household chores, cooking, child care, or shopping. Friends might call to see how you are and ask that you let them know if there is anything they can do to help. 

Friends often want to help, but are very uncertain about what to do. So from your perspective, that means you need to be able to speak unambiguously about the role you want each of your friends to play.

Friends may be waiting for some clue from you.

They might not be sure whether you want company. They might call to ‘see how things are going', then add as they hang up and ‘Let me know if there's anything I    can do to help'.

These friends are asking for more than a job to do.

They are offering you their friendship and support, but they need some guidance on how to proceed. Often it seems that you are the one who has to be strong and help others to cope with your cancer. This can be very difficult when all your energy is channeled into keeping yourself going.


Nevertheless, you will do both yourself and your friend a favour if, when they offer to help, you can give them something specific to do. You might ask your friend, for instance, to make you a casserole, pick up the children, drive you to the hospital, mow the lawns, do some shopping, walk the dog, or simply come and sit with you.

Most people are grateful if there is something they can do to show their friendship. Their next visit might be easier, and then they may be able to visit without a ‘reason'.


Sometimes, people are eager to help you because they want to feel useful. But at times you may not need the support, or you may simply want to spend time alone with your sick loved one.

If people offer help that you don't need or want, thank them for their concern. Let them know that right now you have things under control, but you'll contact them if you need anything. You can tell them that it always helps to send cards, letters, and emails. Or they can pray or send good thoughts.

Sometimes people offer unwanted advice on parenting, medical care, or any number of issues. It can be unpleasant to hear such comments.


People often offer unwanted advice because they aren't sure what else they can do. They may feel helpless to do anything, yet want to show their concern. While it may come from a good place, it can still seem judgmental to you.

It's your decision on how to deal with these opinions. You don't have to respond at all if you don't want to. If someone has concerns about your kids that seem valid, talk to a counselor or teacher about what steps to take. Or if the concerns are about your loved one, you can talk to the support team. Otherwise, thank them. And reassure them that you are taking the necessary steps to get your children through this tough time.


Religion or spirituality can be a great source of strength for some people.

Some find that their faith is strengthened as a result of having cancer, or that faith gives them new found strength. Others become more aware of and interested in religious or spiritual matters, perhaps for the first time in their lives, when they have cancer.

This may be a time when you wish to explore spiritual ideas, and you may wish to talk to people from different faiths about different beliefs, and see how they meet with your own. Leaders from different religious orders have often completed programmes to assist them in helping people with cancer and their families, or have considerable professional experience with people who are ill or dying. People offering spiritual support have varying capacities for coping with life-threatening illnesses and the possibility of death.




And as we join hands, let us also Celebrate Friendship. Beautiful is the gift of Love, for Love is not a debt owed to us but rather a sacred voluntary action. Love is the harmony of your soul. Let us appreciate and nurture those who give to us so freely for their support and encouragement enables us to be stronger and happier.

 Next page:  Asking for Support

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