Many people find cancer a tricky thing to talk about. They worry about saying the wrong thing or feel awkward about asking questions for fear of causing upset.
Personally, I’d prefer that someone says the wrong thing than nothing at all, but I acknowledge I’m someone who speaks very openly about my diagnosis!
If you’re feeling nervous about how to talk to your friend with cancer, try any of these five options to show them you care.
1. I’M SORRY
It sounds obvious but it’s simple and effective. It tells your friend you sympathise with their situation and that you are sad they are going through a difficult time. It’s also the perfect option if you just want to send a text or WhatsApp instead of speaking to them.
A simple “I’m sorry this is happening to you” is enough to let your friend know you care.
In the early stages of diagnosis, many people are overwhelmed with contact from people, including some they may not have heard from in a long time. A simple message like this leaves no requirement to come back in any depth so also takes pressure off your friend until they are ready to reply.
2. HOW ARE YOU (REALLY) FEELING?
We are all guilty of saying, “I’m fine” when asked how we are and cancer patients are no exception. If you get an inkling that your friend is having a low day or is struggling to cope, try asking them if they’re really okay and see if they’ll speak more honestly about their feelings.
Or you could try an open question: “Which chemo side effect do you struggle with the most?”, or “when is your next chemo and how are you feeling about it?” This will encourage your friend to talk about what they’re going through in more detail and perhaps feel better for getting some negative thoughts out in the open.
The effects of cancer treatment on mental health is something I am passionate about. If you start to have serious concerns that your friend isn’t coping, mention it to someone close to them like a partner or parent.
Cancer treatment can take a real toll on your emotions and even the most positive, optimistic person can have incredibly low days. Keep an eye on your friend and let them know you’re available to talk whenever they might need you.
3. WHAT’S THE NEXT STEP IN YOUR TREATMENT?
We don’t all feel comfortable speaking about the emotional side of cancer, and that’s totally okay!
Focusing on practical matters can be a great way to encourage your friend to see how far they’ve come in their treatment and focus on the end goal.
Ask your friend about their next chemo, when they will next be scanned or if they have upcoming doctors appointments.
4. RECOMMEND A BOOK/FILM/TV SERIES/PODCAST!
Us cancer patients have a lot of time on our hands. Being a bit of a nerdy bookworm, some of the nicest parcels I’ve received have been books that friends thought I’d enjoy. I’m also always asking people what they’ve enjoyed on Netflix recently so if you have some tips let your friend know!
If they are a creative type, why not send them a kit or a colouring book. Simple and cheerful projects are a great way to fill a few afternoons when they may feel too tired to get out of the house.
Podcasts are always ideal recommendations for days when your friend may just wants to listen to something in bed with an eye mask on.
5. I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY
People say this to me a lot. Often they seem to feel bad that they can’t find the words to express how completely terrible it is to get a cancer diagnosis.
This is completely fine. Because really, there are no words!
The fact that you are taking the time to reach out to your friend is the most important thing, and if you can’t think of what to say it doesn’t matter, the act of speaking to your friend shows them you care.