Nobody wants to have to think about a friend or family member suffering from cancer. But the chances are, at some point our lives, it is something we will face. It can be difficult to know how to deal with the situation or what to say to a loved one, especially as they are likely to have a range of emotions. They may feel frightened, sad or angry, for example. 

We thought it might be helpful to give a few tips in case this is something you are experiencing right now or may do in the future.  

It can be easy to want to fix a situation for someone we love. This is only natural, but you probably won’t have the answers and that is ok. What a person is likely to need most is just someone to listen to them. So, listen carefully to what they are saying. Don’t try to think of what to say next or assure them that everything will be alright because that may not be helpful. Just be there and allow the person coming to terms with cancer to speak about their feelings. 

Let them talk about it in their own time, when they are ready. They may not want to talk about cancer and that is ok too. It doesn’t mean they are in denial, it may just mean that constantly talking about it is exhausting or upsetting and they may want to concentrate on some normality. 

It may be difficult for you to hear what your friend or family member has to say but try to respect their emotions and let them open up. They may become upset so show that you can see it is hard for them. If you are close to the person, a hug or handhold may be comforting. It may also be an idea to limit how long you talk about cancer. It can be very tiring so perhaps arrange to go for a walk or do something nice after you’ve discussed it. If you are struggling with their diagnosis, then it may be an idea for you to talk to someone else too so that you can discuss your feelings or fears.  

You may have experienced a friend or loved one dealing with cancer before and think that sharing this may help the person you are talking to now. This may not be helpful to them as their journey is their own and they may not want to hear about someone else’s yet. They may never want to talk about other people’s cancer experience. Be mindful of this and careful when discussing other’s situations. 

It is ok to just be there. Perhaps there will be moments of silence. Don’t feel that you need to fill these or use humour if that’s not appropriate. If you know the person well, you will know if humour will help. There will be times when is does not. 

Support can make a person’s cancer journey more bearable so just know that by being there, you are helping enormously. As always, our nurses are on hand to help you. If you just want someone to talk to regarding breast cancer, they are just a phone call away.