When Your Friend has Cancer - 10 Ways to Help

Katherine was a healthy, active woman who exercised regularly, watched her weight and was careful to eat balanced nutritious meals.

However, during a tonsillectomy, the surgeon discovered and removed a plum-sized tumor, which a subsequent biopsy revealed was malignant.

The doctor called and told her she had cancer.

"I hung up the phone feeling devastated and assuming I had been delivered a death sentence. Suddenly and without warning, my life and the life of my family was thrown into turmoil", she recalled.

"You have cancer" may be the most loaded sentence in the English language. As soon as an individual hears those words, the mind quickly conjures up frightening thoughts of pain, suffering, nausea and death.

In order to deal effectivelly and courageously with this major illness, cancer patients need not only medical care but the resolute support of family and friends. Each year, 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer, a figure expected to double over the next 50 years as the population grows and Americans live longer.

With the odds being great that you know or will know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer... here are 10 ways to reach out and help a friend who has cancer:

1. Check your attitudes about cancer.

Before visiting a friend who has been diagnosed with the illness, pause to consider your own ignorance, fears and biases. If you view cancer as a punishment and/or death sentence not treatable by traditional medical treatments, take time to be better informed. No cancer patient needs to be in the presence of a person who will judge him or her or the treatment program.

2. Be there immediately.

A common complaint from cancer patients is that they lose friends as soon as their diagnosis is known. Be one of those helpers and supporters surrounding the cancer patient to deliver encouragement and inspiration.

3. Send a card, or gift.

This is easy to do and extremely encouraging to cancer patients, especially in times of "post-treatment blues", according to Amy Harwell, author of the book "When Your Friend Gets Cancer". A card also is an excellent place to relate a few inspiring and life-affirming Scripture passages.

4. Listen compassionately.

"The absolute best thing you can do for someone in pain, when you can't make the pain go away and neither can they, is just to listen" writes Nancy Guilmartin, author of "Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don't Know What to Say".

Be a good listener, allowing someon dealing with cancer to share their fears and feelings without passing any judgment and to sense that he or she is more important than anything else going on in your life right now.

5. Choose your words carefully.

Remember that words can inspire or injure, heal or hurt, bring peace or pain.

Avoid statements such as "I know how you feel", as one can never know how someone else, especially somenne facing cancer, can feel. Also avoid :"How much time do you have?" and "Did you pay attention to the warning signs?" Rather, try to convey your deep empathy and support.

6. Offer to help in specific ways.

Avoid saying "Let me know what I can do to help", as this places your friend in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for assistance.

Instead, get pro-active and offer to help in some specific ways, such as doing house cleaning or yard work, preparing meals, caring for children, providing rides to and from appointments, running errands and taking telephone calls if your friend is feeling tired and needs rest.

7. Provide relief for the caregiver.

Patients often feel guilty about the load which a spouse or parent is forced to take on and truly appreciate any kindness extended toward caregivers.

8. Be sensitive to your friend's coping styles.

Just as each individual is unique personality, each person has his or her own way of coping and dealing with cancer. Some people are very private about their illness while others will be more public.

9. Respect the patient's decisions.

Don't quarrel about the patient's treatment decisions. Even if you feel strongly, show restraint and respect decisions about how the cancer will be treated.

10. Promote hope.

Try to keep your friend hopeful and optimistic about the future. Without hope, the burden of a life-threatening illness can become heart breaking. "More than 8 million Americans with a history of serious cancer are alive today and didn't give up hope," Richard A. Bloch, founder of the H&R Block Corp. and a cancer survivor said. "A cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence".

By Victor Parachin, Catholic News Service

Visit our Serious Ill Gifts for small tokens to encourage a friend. Also available free are "CURE" magazine, "Cancer Toolbox" among others.

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