When Someone You Know Has Cancer

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Basic do’s and don’ts when someone you know has cancer

Do:

  • Take your cues from the person with cancer. Some people are very private while others will openly talk about their illness. Respect the person’s need to share or their need for privacy.
  • Let them know you care.
  • Respect their decisions about how their cancer will be treated, even if you disagree.
  • Include the person in usual plans and social events. Let them be the one to tell you if the commitment is too much to manage.
  • Listen without always feeling that you have to respond. Sometimes a caring listener is what the person needs the most.
  • Expect the person with cancer to have good days and bad days, emotionally and physically.
  • Keep your relationship as normal and balanced as possible. While greater patience and compassion are called for during times like these, your friend should continue to respect your feelings, as you respect their feelings.
  • Offer to help in concrete, specific ways.

Don’t:

  • Offer advice they don’t ask for, or be judgmental.
  • Feel you must put up with serious displays of temper or mood swings. You shouldn’t accept disruptive or abusive behavior just because someone is ill.
  • Take things too personally. It’s normal for the person with cancer to be quieter than usual, to need time alone, and to be angry at times.
  • Be afraid to talk about the illness.
  • Always feel you have to talk about cancer. The person with cancer may enjoy conversations that don’t involve the illness.
  • Be afraid to hug or touch your friend if that was a part of your friendship before the illness.
  • Be patronizing. (Try not to use a “How sick are you today?” tone when asking how the person is doing.)
  • Tell the person with cancer, “I can imagine how you must feel,” because you really can’t.

Last Medical Review: 05/13/2014
Last Revised: 05/13/2014