How to help a friend going through chemo?

A friend of mine has cancer. It had to happen sooner or later, because statistically it’s likely to happen to 1 in 3 of us I think – or even more. And one of my friends has already beaten some fairly depressing statistics, being told she had terminal cancer, then a 10% chance of survival, and then somehow managing to beat it (so far). A member of my family is currently battling a form that will probably end his life in the next week or so. 

Cancer is an unfair motherf***er.

My friend who has cancer now isn’t a newcomer to it. Lightning did strike twice, even though she beat it once, many years ago. And coming relatively new to our friendship, I saw her as a cancer survivor – and I didn’t even know about that until last year. I kind of imagined you got your quota of cancer and then you were done with it.

A few weeks ago she found a lump. And we told ourselves it wasn’t going to happen again… that it would be fine. She is ever the optimist, and seemed to be cheery right up until the doctor told her the cancer had come back. We couldn’t believe it. She has to have chemo for six months and as a friend I hurt for her and can’t even imagine what she’s going through.

I know she’s beaten it already. And I know she’s a strong person who knows the fight she’s up against and is going to do her damnedest to beat cancer into submission once again. But even superheroes need a pick me up every now and then.

As a friend, I know my job is to try and be there for her as much as possible, and to do stuff that I can do that will hopefully make her feel better. I feel helpless, and it’s not about me – it’s about her. I want to think of ways I can help. 

She told me that some of the worst help was people saying, “Let me know what I can do to help.” And some of the best help was from a friend who told her, “I’m coming over and I’m going to fill up your freezer / tidy the house / look after you.” Now, I’m terrible at tidying and our other friend has probably cornered the market in domestic goddessing, so I’ve kind of focused more on the cheering up.

So far that’s included:

  • Sending her a 6 month flower delivery to last her through this round of chemo. (Bloom & Wild)
  • A gingerbread doctor to mark the first day of chemo. (Biscuiteers)
  • Postcards to say I’m thinking of you. (Touchnote)
  • Ceramic heart “Remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you feel and smarter than you think”. (East of India at Amazon)
  • Whatsapp messages to check in on how she’s doing.
  • Lending her Dog for snuggles and licks. (Well, we were away at a wedding last weekend but they often look after him. I did check whether she still wanted him and she did. I believe he has healing licks.)
  • Dinner out at the pub.
  • Offered to go with her to the wig appointment and provide moral support.
  • A meet the meerkats experience at the zoo. (She loves meerkats!)
  • Face masks from Thomas Roth. She has been advised not to go to the spa whilst undergoing chemo so we thought she could do it in her own home.
  • Chocolate!

I have tried to think of things to make her feel better, and if I see something that I think she’d like, I send it to her. I still wonder if that is enough or if there’s something useful I can do as well as to cheer her up.

Whenever I’ve been ill, my go to comfort is Dog. He is the best medicine for anyone feeling ill or sad! However I’m not willing to give him to her permanently, so I’m wondering what else I can do.

Have you ever been ill for a long time? What was the best thing someone did for you?

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14 comments

  1. RJ

    You are an amazing friend. Honestly the best thing you can do is not ignore it and go do things with her when she’s feeling up for it. I work with kids that have cancer and for the teenagers especially, it’s so important for them to have company, and to not feel like their friends abandoned them. I can imagine it’s similar for adults. Be present, be in contact, and be helpful.

    Like

    • Nara

      Thank you! I don’t feel like I am doing enough. I suppose if you’re not a doctor or nurse you just feel like anything you do is a bit fruitless. I’m not sure I am helpful but I am in contact a lot! I need to think of some stuff to do…

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  2. Maternally Optimistic

    I think what you have done so far is amazing!
    I think I have mentioned before on my blog that I lost my mum to breast cancer a few years ago and in my opinion one of the best things I think you can do is give her your time! Visit as much as you can and take her out for meals and day trips when she feels up to it. As much as people try to be there for you, it can still be pretty lonely going through chemo as people worry they are in the way but if you are she will be the first person to tell you so just be there until she can’t stand to look at you anymore! xxx

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    • Nara

      Thank you. So sorry that you went through that with your mum. I do keep offering to visit but I think she is kind of funny about visitors right now. I think she’s feeling self conscious about stuff. I do message her every day though and send her little things to show I’m thinking of her. Her husband is super supportive and is around a lot and she went to stay with her sister this week. I’m conscious I don’t want to just turn up if that’s stressful for her. But I’ll keep suggesting we meet up! Xx

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      • Maternally Optimistic

        Yeah it can be hard to find a balance there. As long as she knows the offer is there to see you then that’s the most important thing, when she’s ready she will take you up on your offer.
        I think you are being an amazing friend to her xxx

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      • Nara

        Thank you. I definitely didn’t post this to say how great I am btw!! I feel kinda helpless. But I suppose that is nothing to how she must be feeling. Will just keep letting her know I’m thinking of her. X

        Liked by 1 person

  3. differentshoresblog

    What you’re doing is really nice. From experience (people I know who had cancer) I hear that the worst thing that can happen is friends ‘dropping’ you when you’re ill, so just communicating a lot and sending these cheery things is really significant.

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    • Nara

      I can’t imagine dropping someone when they’re ill! How awful. I’m trying to keep showing her I’m thinking of her, definitely. I think there’s a balance though and I don’t want her to feel like I’m harassing her or anything! Will just keep letting her know I’m thinking of her and we do meet up fairly often, so will try and keep that going. It’s just hard knowing what would actually help.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. ramblesandstruggles

    Wow you are an amazing friend. I have a close friend who is 2 years clear of cancer but is haunted it will come back and it’s a huge worry for her. Reading what you have done I don’t believe I did anything close to what you have done or continue to do. Just picking up the phone and going over to see her will help hugely. One thing my friend did say to me was she didn’t like it when people called her an ‘inspiration’ so i would avoid that word. I thin you have done amazingly and I’ve no doubt your friend will appreciate all of it

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    • Nara

      Ah, I don’t think I am amazing or anything. She is really a lovely person and even though we haven’t known each other that long, the only reason we ended up being closer friends than the mutual friend who introduced us is because she made such an effort and was so lovely. (And she loves Dog, which helps!) I think I just feel a bit like I could do something more helpful maybe? But can’t really think what. Good point about “inspiration” – I don’t think I’ve ever called her that, but I’ll bear it in mind in case it is thinking of popping out!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dubliner in Deutschland

    I’m sorry for your friend and your family member. There’s been a lot of cancer in my family (my Mum died from cancer which kept coming back after fighting it for years). I hate cancer so much! I have so many regrets about not doing more for her at the time.. I think all your ideas are great. You’re also so good at baking, maybe you could bake her some cupcakes or something like that? And lending her some good upbeat books she could read during chemo. I guess practical help like going with her to her chemo appointments when you can or coming over and being a shoulder to cry on/someone to talk to x

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    • Nara

      Thank you! Those are all good ideas! I was thinking of baking her something. And books are good too! Although I don’t have many actual paper books any more as I tend to read a lot on kindle. I’ve offered to go to appointments with her, but luckily her husband is around a lot so he takes her. I will just keep letting her know I’m thinking of her and sending her random things! And maybe try and see if she’d be up for a visit. I don’t want to turn up unannounced. Maybe I’ll take Dog round! X

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  6. My Perfect Breakdown

    I have to say, I think everything you’ve said here is truly amazing! And the suggestions above are also awesome. I think sometimes just knowing we have amazing friends at our sides is enough to brighten even the worst days, and clearly she has an amazing friend in you! ❤

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    • Nara

      Aww. I feel a bit bad really as I didn’t post this for accolades. I genuinely want to think of ways I can improve stuff for her. It feels like sending presents and messages isn’t enough… but maybe that’s all I can do right now.

      Liked by 1 person

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