Your Journey As A Caregiver:
Friends & Colleagues

Although you may not be the primary caregiver for a cancer patient, you may still be grappling with your own emotions and feelings after your friend or colleague has been diagnosed with cancer. As a friend to someone who is battling cancer, you can make a considerable difference in their life and offer much needed emotional support. Studies have found that patients with a strong emotional support system are able to adapt better to the changes that cancer brings their way.

Ways to help a cancer patient as a friend

There are many ways to help a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer and is under treatment. If you are not sure where to begin, here are a few things you can try. Remember that every patient is different and may have different mechanisms to cope with their diagnosis and illness. Think deeply about the kind of support your friend may like to receive from you.

Stay in touch and listen to your friend

Often, the best way to communicate with others is to just listen. Be open and allow your friend to express their thoughts, feelings and fears about the situation. Sometimes, just talking about the situation can be very therapeutic.

As a friend, one of the best things you can do for your friend is to let them know that they are important to you. You can do this by sending them notes or calling them regularly. Every person reacts to this difficult situation differently. If your friend prefers not to talk about it, try not to feel offended. Instead, let them know that you are available for them when they need you.

You should also check in regularly with your friend’s primary caregiver and see if there is anything you can do to help.

Visiting your friend

Cancer can make your friend feel lonely. Visiting them on a regular basis can be very helpful and make them feel like they did before the diagnosis.

Keep in mind that your friend might not always be able to see you. Always call before you visit them.

Shorter, more frequent visits are usually more helpful than longer, infrequent ones.

Your friend might not always want to talk, but they will still like your company. Carry along something like a crossword that you can work on while you keep your friend company. Bring a book to read if your friend decides to rest or sleep for a while during your visit.

If your friend is up to it, go out for a short walk with them.

Always talk about your next visit before you leave so your friend can look forward to it.

TALKING TO your friend

Having a conversation with a cancer patient can sometimes feel difficult. You should know that it’s more important to them that you are there and willing to listen to them rather than the specifics of what you say.

  • Try to fit conversations into the attention span of your friend.  
  • Ask them if they are comfortable and offer solutions if they are not. You can ask if they would like more pillows, or if they want you to move some furniture around to help them be more comfortable.
  • Allow your friend to express their feelings even if they are being negative. 
  • If your friend feels like it’s too hard to fight the disease, don’t urge them to fight it.
  • Avoid always telling your friend how strong they are. This could make them feel as if they need to act strong even if they are feeling sad or exhausted.
  • Don’t remind them of past habits that could be related to the illness such as smoking or drinking. This could make them feel guilty.

Help out with errands

Even though you’re not the primary caregiver for your friend, helping them or their caregiver with errands can make a big difference. 

Try helping with frequent, scheduled errands rather than infrequent and long ones. This may be appreciated more by your friend.

Try and find ways to regularly help your friend or their caregiver with errands and projects.

Some people find it difficult to accept help from others. You should know that this has nothing to do with you, and is usually related to their desire to feel independent and in control.

Try to help the caregiver with urgent errands they need to handle. This indirectly helps your friend, and takes some of the workload off the caregiver in the process.

Offer ideas on how you can help and follow through.

Say it with a gift

Gifts can be a nice way to make your friend happy. You can gift your friend something that they may need or simply something that you know they will like.

Get them a gift that is useful immediately, such as a pair of soft socks. Small gifts that are given more frequently will make your friend happier than bigger, infrequent ones.

Giving gifts to the caregiver is also a good idea.

Get them a gift that is useful immediately, such as a pair of soft socks. Small gifts that are given more frequently will make your friend happier than bigger, infrequent ones.

Giving gifts to the caregiver is also a good idea.

Supporting your colleague

Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer continue to work for a variety of reasons – work may help give them a much-needed sense of routine, help them feel good about themselves or provide an additional source of income for their family. 

If one of your colleagues has been diagnosed with cancer, you can play an important role in supporting them at work and through their cancer journey. You can help them make reasonable adjustments to ensure that their work-life balance is maintained. 

Here are some steps you can take to ensure your colleague feels supported at this difficult time in their lives:

Have an open discussion with them to understand their needs

When coming up with a plan to accommodate their requirements, be sure to consult your colleague and involve them in the process

Have a joint discussion with your supervisor about exploring options such as :

  • Flexible work hours
  • Working from home on a few days
  • Allow your friend to express their feelings even if they are being negative. 
  • Creating a back-up: If your colleague is out of the office for treatment or as a consequence of their illness, it can be helpful to create a back-up who will handle things on their behalf

If your colleague has been diagnosed with cancer and wishes to continue working,
they may find it helpful to read our section on managing work life during treatments.
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