THE ADVOCATE 399
VOL. 77 PART 3 MAY 2019
HELPING A FRIEND WHO IS EXPERIENCING CANCER*
So, you have just discovered that a friend, colleague, family member—in
short, someone you care about—has just been diagnosed with cancer. What
should you say? How can you help? I have had cancer. From having “been
there” and from speaking to many others who have faced this challenge, I
am offering some thoughts on how friends can help.
These thoughts are prefaced by a caution, and it is this—however you
decide to help, always keep in mind the personality of those you are trying
to help. Are they are extroverted and like to talk? Or are they a private person?
Just because they have this disease does not give anyone the right to
cross previously set personal boundaries. It is important, above all, to
respect who they have always been and to treat them in the same way.
The Initial Diagnosis
In October 2002, I experienced a pain under my arm. I thought nothing of
it. Life was going so well, and I felt great. It wasn’t until mid-January that I
got the news. I had breast cancer and needed surgery, then chemo, then
The diagnosis hit me like a tsunami—a huge wave that knocked me completely
off my feet—and I no longer knew which way was up. Should I fight
against it, or should I go with the flow? How could this be happening to happy
and healthy me? Although no two people who receive such a diagnosis will
react in exactly the same way, everyone feels shocked. So it is important to
realize that immediately after diagnosis is not the time to try to be rational and
logical with the person. For those closest to them, it is a time to just be there
with them, to tell them you care and are sorry they have to deal with this.
* This piece first appeared at (2010) 68 Advocate 893.