Supporting a Friend with Cancer

Cancer can happen to anyone at any time.

There’s no predicting when cancer can strike, so when it does find it’s way into your life it can come as quite a shock.

Research undertaken by Cancer Research UK has shown that 1 in 8 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetimes. Whilst survival rates are improving every year, a diagnosis (which comes with a 78% survival rate) is still a hard thing to take and can lead to a person feeling severely isolated, depressed or even angry.

If someone you know has been given a breast cancer diagnosis then there are a few things that you should consider before you next see them:

Potential physical changes

A cancer diagnosis and the resulting treatment can often lead to some noticeable physical changes in people. Chemotherapy (a form of radiation treatment that many patients will have to go through) often leads to undesirable side effects such as hair loss, weight loss or gain, as well as extreme fatigue. During these transitional periods, when a breast cancer patient is experiencing these changes for the first time, it’s important to be supportive of them.

Consider how these physical changes might make your friend feel; try not to draw attention to their physical appearance, they will already be aware of how they have changed and will no doubt be self-conscious of this. Let them lead the tone of the conversation and let them understand that you’re there to support them.

Emotional reactions

Even if your friend or colleague is receiving treatment for their illness, the potential consequences of their cancer could well be weighing on their mind on a day-to-day basis. Despite how relaxed or at ease they might appear to be, it’s unlikely that their disease is ever that far away from their thoughts. Your friend might act slightly different as a result of their diagnosis, leading them to say or do things that might seem out of character.

Cancer can bring forth all kinds of emotions in people, not all of them negative, so don’t be surprised if your friend starts acting differently – they could be angry, resentful or even happier than they were before. Make sure they’re aware that they can always talk to you should they need to;  having a friend that they can confide in openly will help relieve some of the emotional weight that they might be experiencing.

Ability to function or work

If you happen to work with someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer then you should ensure that you don’t go out of your way to treat them differently to how you did before. Although breast cancer treatment can often leave patients physically or psychologically depleted, you shouldn’t assume that they won’t be able to work to the same level that they did before. Purposefully lightening someone’s workload without talking to them first could lead them to feeling condescended to and might heighten feelings of isolation.

It’s important to make your co-worker and friend feel as valued in your team as they did beforehand. It might be difficult, but it’s crucial to make them feel stable in their work life so that they have the opportunity to continue their  day-to-day activities without having to worry even more about their cancer diagnosis or treatment.

Keep your communications open and always make sure that they feel comfortable talking to you whenever they feel the need to.