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Family & Friends

Family & Friends:

Finding out you have cancer can trigger a whole range of emotions.

How to break your news.This may not be easy.

You may want to understand how you feel before sharing anything,
alternatively, you might want to talk about it straight away.

There is no right or wrong way or any obligation to put a brave face on things. It is something that is best shared when you are ready. There are many people who can help, a good starting point is the Macmillan cancer support website which has some excellent information and advice.

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Partners.  Communicating regularly with partners is really important as this will naturally be a time of significant stress.  People can react in different ways sometimes partners needs support from the cancer patient, other times they may be distant due to work or just the shock.  Again there are no right or wrong answers but understanding what can happen, that you are not alone and talking about what is happening will help.  There are a lot of resources available online  – please see the links below.   

Children.  Telling our children can be the hardest step and clearly, you want to be as supportive as you can.  Again there is help online, well worth reading through, see the links below.  Children can sometimes blame themselves and even blame a sick parent.  They may well be worried about their lives and what happens to them rather than their parent.  These are all normal reactions and knowing what can happen can help massively. 

Colleagues and work.  Sharing the news with your work and colleagues is really important.  The vast majority of employers will look after their employees and they have a number of legal obligations.  Many jobs have benefits schemes to help with short and long-term absence and may have life and critical illness protection.  It is well worth discussing these options with your employer so you both know what is happening early on.  Helping your colleagues understand will also let them work with you effectively and many will offer personal support too.

Tips for family, friends and colleagues helping a cancer survivor

  • Support your partner, mother or friend – times like this they will need your help
  • Don’t pressure people into talking they will come round to talking when they feel the time is right – be available
  • Listen and don’t pass judgement, help in the form of time and information is better than asking tough questions or offering lots of advice
  • If you someone in your team has developed cancer get a clear view of their benefits for them and get advice from your HR team on how to best support them.  The government will provide lifts to and from work in some situations.

Helpful tips when supporting a friend

Although each person with cancer is different, here are some suggestions for showing support:

  • Ask permission. Before visiting, giving advice, and asking questions, ask if it is welcome. Be sure to make it clear that saying no is perfectly okay.
  • Make plans. Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future. This gives your friend something to look forward to, especially with the sometimes long and drawn out cancer treatment.
  • Be flexible. Make flexible plans that are easy to change in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule.
  • Laugh together. Be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed. A light conversation or a funny story can make a friend’s day.
  • Allow for sadness. Do not ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings.
  • Check in. Make time for a check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling. Also, let your friend know that it is okay not to answer the phone.
  • Offer to help. Many people find it hard to ask for help. However, your friend will likely appreciate the offer. You can offer to help with specific tasks, such as taking care of children, taking care of a pet, or preparing a meal. However, if your friend declines an offer, don’t take it personally.
  • Follow through. If you commit to helping, it is important that you follow through on your promise.
  • Treat them the same. Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. As much as possible, treat him or her the same way you always have.
  • Talk about topics other than cancer. Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease.
  • Read his or her blog, web page, or group emails. Oftentimes, people living with cancer blog about their experience to share with friends and family. Or, a family member will post updates to a personal web page or send a group email. Stay current with these updates so that your friend doesn’t have to repeat experiences or information multiple times. These updates are also a great way to start a conversation.

What to say

Don’t be afraid to talk with your friend. It is better to say, “I don’t know what to say” than to stop calling or visiting out of fear.

Here are some options to help show your care and support:

  • I’m sorry this has happened to you.
  • If you ever feel like talking, I’m here to listen.
  • What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help?
  • I care about you.
  • I’m thinking about you.

Here are examples of phrases that are unhelpful:

  • I know just how you feel.
  • I know just what you should do.
  • I’m sure you’ll be fine.
  • Don’t worry.
  • How long do you have?

Remember, you can communicate with someone in many different ways, depending on how he or she prefers to communicate. If you don’t see your friend regularly, a simple phone call, text message, or video call shows that you care. Let your friend know it’s okay if he or she doesn’t reply.

Practical help

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Shop for groceries and pick up prescriptions.
  • Help with chores around the house.
  • Cook dinner and drop it off at your friend’s house. Ask about dietary restrictions beforehand.
  • Schedule a night of takeout food and movies together.
  • Baby-sit children, take them to and from school and activities or arrange for play dates.
  • Organize a phone chain and/or support team to check on your friend regularly.
  • Drive your friend to an appointment or a support group meeting. Offer to take notes during an appointment or provide company during a treatment.
  • Go for a walk together.
  • Think about the little things your friend enjoys and makes life “normal” for them. Offer to help make these activities easier.
  • Offer to make any difficult phone calls. Or, gather information about different resources they may need.
  • Find small ways to support your friend if he or she decides to participate in a fundraiser or outing.

Organizing a support team is a great way to help a friend living with cancer. Some online communities offer tools to coordinate tasks among friends and caregivers. Shareable online calendars help you organise activities among your group of friends and family. Or, you can always make a paper calendar and write in the various activities and commitments by hand. Make sure your friend has access to the calendar so he or she knows what to expect and when.

Friendship makes a difference

Continuing friendships and regular activities after a cancer diagnosis is a great way to further the healing process. Don’t forget that friends also need encouragement and support after cancer treatment has finished. After treatment, your friend will be trying to find his or her “new normal” in this next phase of life. Friendships are an important part of that. With these practical suggestions in mind, your friendship can make a lasting difference to a person living with cancer.

Useful links…

Getting help with finances
if you get cancer

Coping with a cancer diagnosis is challenging enough without having to worry about finances. These days it is so difficult to have “rainy day” savings to help at these times but there are some affordable insurance policies which will pay you a cash lump sum on diagnosis of cancer to help you stop money worries and let you focus on getting better.

If you have, or have had cancer, you might not be eligible for insurance, but there are still some excellent resources available, Macmillan in particular offer specialised support for cancer patients with money worries.

Find out more

Real life stories

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