October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, bringing visibility to the second most common kind of cancer in women. As with many things in life, it’s wise to be prepared — whether that’s having the right kind of protection to talking to your doctor about prevention/early detection.
But, life happens. And one thing that we aren’t taught in school is what to do when a friend does have cancer. It’s sort of like, Eep, what do I say? What can I do? Do I say I’m sorry? Do I say, be strong — and then pretend like nothing is happening?
Well, having been through this experience, I have opinions. And I have had many conversations with people on both sides of this situation; it’s difficult at best. But here are six things you can do that are all-but-guaranteed to smooth your friend/family member/coworker/human being’s road to recovery.
1. Send a card. One of these cards.
If you’re not sure what to say — that’s OK — let Emily McDowell say it with one of her Empathy Cards. Slightly snarky and sometimes borderline inappropriate, these cards say what we’re all thinking; the messages are a breath of fresh air, and open up the way for a more thoughtful conversation about the kind of support your friend needs. Frankly, just knowing that they have your support is a great start.
2. Ask what you can do to help.
Don’t jump to your cookbook and start making cookies or banana bread. Call up your friend and have a direct conversation: what do they need help with? Do they need a driver, a cook, a cleaner? These needs might change as time goes on, and it’s hard sometimes to ask for help — so offer it. Offer it gently, but firmly.
Lotsa Helping Hands is a great tool you might find helpful to organizing this sort of thing, especially if you have lots of helpers and need to organize efforts.
3. Do something FUN. Good ol’ fashioned quality time.
Do you remember the time you last laughed uncontrollably? Hardly anyone does, so consider treating your friend to something FUN. Now, depending on interests/tastes and how your friend is feeling, going on a bike ride in the park or skydiving might not exactly meet the F-U-N criteria. Think about what might be most appropriate where you can get some laughs in. It could be Netflix night with pajamas. You could sit and color. Maybe it’s a picnic.
Don’t do this under the guise of a distraction or “getting their mind off things.” It’s just fun.
4. Send a little surprise.
Everyone loves nice surprises now and then, and now is the time to strike with the most creative surprise that you think your friend will totally enjoy. Here’s a tip: pretend your friend doesn’t have anything wrong with them, at all. What would you buy? That’s a good surprise. It could be flowers or an edible bouquet. It could be a subscription to a tea of the month club or chocolate of the month club. It could be a gift certificate to a cool restaurant. Make it a personal, special self-care surprise.
5. Educate yourself.
This is a great opportunity for you to self-educate yourself on two things: first, your friend’s condition (far better to do your own research than pepper them with questions), and secondly, this might be the wake up call you need to ensure you’re taking care of yourself.
Careful when Googling — there are some not-so-trustworthy sources out there.
6. Pick up the phone.
Last but not least, the best thing you can do whenever a friend is going through a rough patch (cancer or otherwise) is to be open and listen. Don’t hide behind social media platitudes — pick up the phone and call. If they don’t answer, leave a message. Let them know you’re there. Be open to receiving. If they don’t answer, fine; check back in regularly with no expectations. Listen when they need it. Be present as a witness where they need it. Just be when they need it.