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Topic: how to be helpful when your friend has cancer

Forum: Caring for Someone with Stage IV or Mets —

A place where family members, caregivers, and loved ones of people having a Stage IV (metastatic) diagnosis can share, discuss, and support one another through the tough times unique to this diagnosis.

Posted on: Oct 10, 2021 01:51PM - edited Oct 10, 2021 01:52PM by zipmonk

zipmonk wrote:

How to be helpful when your friend has cancer. by Susan McCamey

A lot of articles talk about the logistical ways you can help friends with cancer, like delivering meals and helping with housework and errands. But I haven't read as many articles about how to help with the emotions of cancer. So here is some advice from a woman who has Stage Four Breast Cancer.

Cancer can be a very lonely thing. It's pretty damn isolating. It's difficult to convey how very alone you feel even with a lot of love. Other people just can't understand how difficult it is to live with this disease hanging over your head. It's uncomfortable for most people to talk about so you don't talk to people at length about your treatment or the side effects or your prognosis. They don't tend to ask. I guess that's understandable on one level but it's also kind of hurtful and isolating. Something that affects you every single day on every level is something you just can't talk about much.

When you know you're going to die and life will go on without you you can't help but imagine the people in your life eventually adapting to the loss and having a good time in the future. It's irrational and ego-based but it kind of hurts. This is embarrassing to admit. Because you're the one with cancer, with the medication side effects, and chronic pain, and low energy levels you are made aware multiple times a day that there will come a time when you will no longer be around. The people you are with can't possibly know this. It's a sad realization that you are frequently completely alone with, so you find yourself shaking it off and just pressing on. (Just to be clear, you also WANT them to eventually move on and love life.)

When you have a terminal disease you want to have your friends and loved ones tell you how much they're going to miss you. You need them to say "I don't want to lose you." You want to be cherished and you want them to value the time they have left with you. You get pretty hyper sensitive about people not making time for you.

Then when you are with your friends and family you feel like you don't want to be a bummer so you try to act upbeat and as inspirational as you possibly can. People talk about the brave cancer patient who goes through it all without a complaint but nobody wants to be around the cancer patient who is being a drag.

There are times when I just want to say to my friends and husband, "Do you have any idea how difficult this is?" It's not that I'm mad that I have cancer and they don't and I've never done the "why me" thing but sometimes you just want other people to know how you feel and you think the only way is if they are in the same boat. And if you ever feel they judge you for handling it badly it's difficult not to feel like they just don't have a clue. You want people to say you are doing a good job dealing with all this and they see your emotional strength.

So here's the takeaway:

  1. Ask them about their treatment - it is a huge part of their life. Let them talk about it as much as they need to and ask follow-up questions and be present when they are answering your questions. Don't look at your phone and show interest and concern. Know when important events like scans are coming up because those are going to be the most trying times for your friend. Wait for the scan results with them and let them know you are there for them to process their feelings about the results.
  1. Tell them how much you are going to miss them. Tell them how afraid you are to lose them. Tell them your death will leave a hole in their life.

3. Make time for them. Spend time with them and put effort into planning special events to attend together to make

wonderful memories. Be present with them during these events.

4. Tell them you see how much strength they have to deal with their illness and all the

ramifications. Tell them you think they are doing a good job handling it. But also tell them

they don't always have to be strong. Listen to them when they are struggling and suffering

and remind them that it's normal to struggle and suffer.

If you have ever not known what to do, now you know. You have no idea what a gift this will be to your friend.

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Oct 11, 2021 07:05AM Racy wrote:

This is an informative post but does the person with cancer want to talk about it all the time? Or does she appreciate some conversation about current noncancer topics also?, so as not be defined as a cancer patient only?

Dx 2010, ILC, 2cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/22 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Oct 11, 2021 07:15AM Racy wrote:

I am a very private and independent person. I can count on a few fingers those who know of my diagnosis and I don't want to discuss it with anyone apart from my doctors and on this site.

I think how a person handles her diagnosis depends on the individual.

Dx 2010, ILC, 2cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/22 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Oct 11, 2021 08:00AM zipmonk wrote:

i know it depends on the person. But most people (friends and family) default to not talking about it. that’s been my experience.

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Oct 11, 2021 08:32AM - edited Oct 11, 2021 08:44AM by Racy

I understand what you are saying. Some people are not comfortable to talk about cancer or other topics like that with those affected. I guess we are more aware and understanding because we have experienced cancer.

I do talk with people going through it but then I think: surely they don't want to talk about this all the time?

The key is probably acknowledging the issue and then being guided by the person as to how much they want to talk about it or move on to other topics.

Dx 2010, ILC, 2cm, Stage IIA, Grade 3, 0/22 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2-
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Oct 11, 2021 12:26PM Olma61 wrote:

the most important thing in my opinion is not what you say, but that you listen

And yes, I amStage 4 and I don’t want to talk about cancer and deathall the time. Sometimes, I do. But not all the time.

10/30/2017 Xgeva for bone mets 5/31/2018 Taxol finished! "If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right” - Kierkegaard Dx 8/3/2017, IDC, Right, 2cm, Stage IV, metastasized to bone, Grade 2, ER+/PR+, HER2+ (IHC) Targeted Therapy 10/28/2017 Perjeta (pertuzumab) Targeted Therapy 10/28/2017 Herceptin (trastuzumab) Chemotherapy 10/30/2017 Taxol (paclitaxel) Hormonal Therapy 5/14/2018 Arimidex (anastrozole) Radiation Therapy 5/30/2019 External: Bone
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Oct 11, 2021 03:40PM finallyoverit wrote:

I’m with you @Racy. Only a few know about my first diagnosis and only 1 knows of my second. I want it that way. I want to be treated like me, not “me with”. I don’t want to talk about treatments; I don’t want to talk about how difficult this is; I don’t want to talk about how I live with constant pain, constant fatigue. I think about this damn disease enough, give me the space and grace to talk about something else. Please

Dx 10/2011, IDC, Stage IIA, 0/4 nodes, ER+/PR+, HER2- Dx 5/2017, Stage IV, metastasized to bone
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Oct 11, 2021 07:02PM zipmonk wrote:

I definitely do not want to talk about cancer and death and dying all the time. Not the point of what I wrote. It’s just a huge part of having metastatic disease for me. I’m a counselor so talking about feelings is just really important for me. But the responses to my pos are making me realize many people don’t have this same need.

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Oct 11, 2021 10:18PM - edited Oct 11, 2021 10:23PM by exbrnxgrl


Many people are not comfortable being public or open about their bc. I was still working when dx'ed and was extremely open about my situation. It allowed me to set the tone and make sure that gossip and rumor were nipped in the bud. I encouraged people to ask me about my health, especially if they heard something that concerned them. I should add that I am a recently retired teacher and will always be an educator. I was able to be a support for several parents at my school who were unfortunately dx'ed at a much younger age than I was. I even let a parent feel me up so she would know what implants felt like as she considered her own recon 😂. I think I may be rather atypical in my openness but my school community was also a huge support for me. They did the meal organizing and many other things to help my family out. I taught for 10 years with mbc and can't wait to start subbing.

Despite my bare it all attitude, I think it is of the utmost importance that we respect the way each person feels comfortable dealing with this highly personal matter.

Bilateral mx 9/7/11 with one step ns reconstruction. As of 11/21/11, 2cm met to upper left femur Dx 7/8/2011, IDC, Left, 4cm, Grade 1, 1/15 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Surgery 9/7/2011 Lymph node removal: Left; Mastectomy: Left, Right; Reconstruction (left); Reconstruction (right) Dx 11/2011, IDC, Left, 4cm, Stage IV, Grade 1, 1/15 nodes, mets, ER+/PR+, HER2- Hormonal Therapy 11/21/2011 Arimidex (anastrozole) Radiation Therapy 11/21/2011 Bone Hormonal Therapy 6/19/2014 Femara (letrozole) Hormonal Therapy Aromasin (exemestane)

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