When a Friend has Cancer, How Can I Help?

Cancer. That frightening C word.

More and more we hear it. It’s all around us without apparent rhyme or reason. Our family or friend calls with the news, and we wonder when it will be our turn. And then there are all the questions: How do you get cancer? How do you prevent it? How do you treat it effectively? How do you live knowing you might be dying? Are we seriously talking about someone dying? Wait! It’s not time!

And, when it’s not us with the diagnosis, we ask this important question: How can I help?

Good Counsel - Help

As you read this, my dear neighbor is recovering from cancer surgery, again. We thought she had defeated the disease two years ago, but last week came the dreaded news. It’s back. She called to let me know. After I hung up the phone, I sat down hard on my couch. My head screamed inside my fuzzy, confused thoughts. Didn’t the doctor say they caught it early? What went wrong? What are her chances of beating it again? What can I do?

Having been on both sides cancer, I’d like to share a few thoughts that can help when a loved one has cancer.


Just because your sister-in-law found it helpful to take a walk when she was in her most fearful cancer stage, that doesn’t mean everybody wants to walk. Some can’t. Some are embarrassed. Some never liked walking in the first place. Don’t make assumptions. Maybe your friend would rather go to a movie for therapy. Your best bet is to ask.

Take no for an answer.

If the answer is, “No, please don’t bring more food because we have too much already,” don’t bring food. “No, I already have someone coming to mow the grass, but thank you very much for asking.” Sometimes it can cause more stress for your sick family member to have to coordinate the helpers and make more decisions. Only help where they have expressed a need.


What if your diagnosed friend needs help but won’t ask? Seek guidance through prayer before you ask how you can help. In prayer say those rash, crazy comments that are in the forefront of your mind about cancer. You can tell God you’re afraid they won’t live. You can ask Him about your own humanity. All of this will be free and clear of any concerns that you’ll say the wrong thing. And above all else, when you pray, spiritual forces go to work in places and ways you can’t comprehend.


Isn’t it odd that when another human suffers it’s common to pull away? You might be afraid of the truth of what your loved one is facing; afraid that you’ll say something wrong; afraid of cancer itself. But now is not the time to be afraid and distance yourself. Now is the time to treat this beautiful person with the familiarity that you both share.

The list could go on, depending on the situation. However, these four things will get you started. As it turns out, my neighbor only wants me to pray and then share anything I feel God saying to me about her. In other words, she wants to hear hope. I want to do so much more. Yes, her dogs need walking, she could use some healthy food, and flowers would look nice on her counter. But I have asked, and my friend has answered.

Maybe someone else will bring the flowers.

by Stephanie Trahant, LPC – Read more about Stephanie here or call 720-295-2827

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