It’s Not Only Individuals that get Cancer

This entry is part 30 in the series Friends

cancer starts with CMany people don’t realise that it’s not only the individual that has cancer than needs physical help and emotional support. The family does too.

Perhaps the most neglected of all are the children. When I was on intense treatment, I had some wonderful friends. A few made a point of being there for my husband. But I don’t know of anyone that actually supported my children. I’m open to correction. But mine were at least adult. What about young children?

Children at school talk. And children can be cruel – and thoughtless. Even little children know that cancer kills. Probably most of them don’t know that you can also survive cancer. The children of your friend may know of someone’s mommy or daddy who died from cancer. Now they hear that their own mommy has cancer – and whenever they walk into the room, the adults stop talking!

Open the subject with the adult members of the family. Ask how they’re coping. Is there something you can do? Offer to bring a meal round. Ask if you can help with the washing. I recently discovered a husband that didn’t know how to operate the washing machine when his wife was in hospital so used the laundromat! He didn’t like to admit his need to his friends.

Don’t take for granted that your friend will ask. Offer to help. If you know the children well enough, take them out for an icecream and talk about the situation. Be positive and encouraging, but don’t lie. Be as supportive as you can. Find out what the kids at school are saying, and help them decided what they are going to say in reply.  An excellent book for the smaller children, which you can read with them and chat to them about the subject, is Cancer Starts With C by cancer survivor Leticia Croft-Holguin. 

When Visiting is Tough

This entry is part 29 in the series Friends

FriendsIn an earlier tip I mentioned how some people seem to think cancer is contagious. They stay away completely – or they stand way, way back from the person. Many times the patient desperately longs for a human touch – and standing back is just plain cruel.

But another reason why people may stay away is because it makes them aware of their own mortality. It reminds them that one day they too will die. (No maybe – they will.) The thought that it could be from a terminal illness is too painful for them to cope with.

If you’re struggling with this, here’s something to think about. It is extremely unlikely that the patient will understand where you’re coming from. They don’t see themselves as you do. They don’t realise the stress it’s puting on you. They are wrapped up in their own suffering.

And that’s normal. read more

Don’t Just Say It! Do it!

This entry is part 28 in the series Friends

Praying_HandsI can’t tell you how often people ended our visit or chat with the words “I’m praying!”

I knew some of them were. I also knew many of them wouldn’t know how to pray if I asked them to.

If you say you’re going to pray – do it. If your friend is tense about a situation, or really feeling rotten, ask them, “Would you like me to pray for you now?” Then don’t be insulted if they shake their heads. Respect that. Don’t judge them as heathens!

You may be the 5th person to pray for them in the last few hours and they’re sick of hearing their problems explained to the Lord.

If you say you’ll be praying for them on a regular basis – do it. Set your cellphone or put a note or their photograph on your fridge door. Each time the alarm goes off or you open the fridge, you will be reminded to pray. It doesn’t need to be a long wordy prayer. Just lift them up to the Lord, thinking especially of any special need you are aware of. It’s not a sin to forget.

But it bad to break a promise. And “I’ll pray for you each day” is a promise. So if you make that promise, do something to make sure you don’t forget.  

What if they accept your offer to pray right then, and you’ve never prayed aloud before. Have you spoken aloud to your friend? Well, if Jesus is your friend, what’s the problem? Just speak to Him in every day language, and ask Him to bless your friend and hold him close. Don’t try to use spiritual language. Your friend will know the difference, and he has asked YOU to pray. Not the pope!

Your Friend has Cancer? Take Care of Yourself!

This entry is part 27 in the series Friends

woman praisingThis is probably the most crucial of all the tips. Take care of yourself!

Your friend needs you, and she needs you healthy. Chances are her immunity is low, at least part of the time, so if you do feel a cold coming on, wear a mask and see that there are more available for other visitors to put on.

When she is first diagnosed, you may well feel overwhelmed. There is a danger that you will over-commit yourself to being there for her. This could well be a long-term project, so when you make your plans, leave some time for yourself. See to it that you eat well, drink plenty fluids, and continue to take care of your routine commitments . . . such as that annual mammogram!

Unable to cope with the diagnosis?

This entry is part 25 in the series Friends

angerIn a previous article, “How are you coping?” we looked at folk who really cannot cope with their loved one’s diagnosis of cancer. When I was ill, I found there were friends and also family members, who didn’t cope well with my diagnosis at all. In at least one case this was because the lady, a dear friend, had lost two family members to cancer, and she couldn’t handle losing me. She didn’t live in our town, but she did mean to answer my email. However the days went by, and believe it or not, she forgot I had cancer! A couple of years later, during a phone call, she realised what had happened, and was mortified.

How could she have forgotten me during that time?

On my side, I was confused that she didn’t reply to my email. She wrote to me, but it was as if she’d never heard I was ill. She even sent me a happy email full of photographs of her daughter’s wedding. But she never mentioned me, or asked how I was. read more

Do You Really Want to Visit?

This entry is part 24 in the series Friends


When I was in hospital, I received a couple of visitors that puzzled me. They weren’t friends of mine. Some were casual members of the congregation, who only came to church once in a while. So why did they come to see me? Many of them came the first night following my surgery which made it even more strange.

My husband came with our younger son who still lived at home. My other son came through from the nearby town where he lived, bringing his girlfriend. My brother came across from the other side of the Witwatersrand to where we lived, bringing my eighty-year-old mother. All those were to be expected. They comprised my immediate family. Interestingly, they are the only ones I remember from that night. Yet the visitors stood three deep around the bed, talking to one another.

I’m sure among those were some of the friends who would stand by me throughout the year to follow. But I also know there were a number whom we couldn’t understand their presence, and they never came again. I presume they came just to satisfy their curiosity.

I don’t know what they expected, but I sat propped up on pillows with my arm in a sling, making joking remarks for all of the first few minutes. After that I passed out from the drugs and left them to talk to one another. I only awoke once they’d all gone home. Seriously, why? Why would someone who had never been in my home, want to visit me a few hours after I had surgery for cancer?

  • Think before you visit. Choose your time. And don’t visit the first couple of nights after surgery—unless you are a close relative or very dear friend; or of course if you know no one else will be going.
  • Make sure about visiting hours and don’t expect nursing staff to let you in at all times. It’s not fair on them, and it’s not fair on the patients. I had to eventually speak to the charge sister of my ward and ask her not to allow visitors in at all times, as I never got the chance to rest.
  • Don’t take flowers the first few days. First make sure there aren’t too many there already. I had so many, I had to send them home. Such a pity, and it made me feel guilty. Having said that, my “garden” of flowers at home was amazing.


How Can You Be There For Your Friend with Cancer?

This entry is part 23 in the series Friends


There are a number of ways people react when they are told their friend or loved one has cancer.

The first, and possibly most common, type of reaction comes from those who rise up and say, “We’ll be here for you.”

What exactly does that mean?

Be there for your friend or family member.  

Many cancer survivors will tell you that they learned who their real friends were during their treatment time. Some handle it well. Others can’t cope with the emotions and withdraw from the patient.

When I faced my diagnosis of breast cancer with a poor prognosis followed by a year’s aggressive treatment, I soon found out who were really there for me, and those who weren’t. If you’d asked me a week before the diagnosis, who would form my support group, there are names I would have put near the top of the list—yet when the time came, they were too busy, too threatened or too apprehensive, to spend constructive time with me. There were others whom I wouldn’t have even thought of, who became stalwarts in my war against cancer.

People with cancer do much better when they have a strong support system from their friends. Click To Tweet

Know that you can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer.

What does it mean to “be there” for those going through treatment for cancer? It simply means giving them your support, whatever that may entail. You may need to listen to them without criticism or correction, rub their backs, fetch them iced water, cut their toenails, or allow them to cry. And sometimes, the best way you can “be there” for them, is to go home and leave them alone.

As you spend time with your friend, watch for ways you can help her*. As you notice ways that the cancer is affecting her everyday life, you can step forward and offer to help in constructive ways. One friend of mine appointed herself as my gardener. As a minister’s wife, I received a huge number of floral arrangements which my husband arranged all round the room. My friend watered them, picked off the dead leaves, combined them as the flowers died, and generally kept them looking lovely. 

Make sure you show your friend that she is still important to you, regardless of how she looks or her emotional or physical state. Even if she has a family member staying with her, or if she has a hired carer, your help is still needed. Perhaps the family member or carer needs a break. By offering to sit with the patient, they can get out of the house and do some shopping. Alternatively, you can do the shopping for them.

Pop in regularly to see how she’s doing and if there is anything she needs. If you can’t physically be there, pick up the phone and chat briefly to her or to her carer. Make sure she has your phone number handy and assure her you’re always available to take her call. (If you are. If not, tell her when she can phone you.)

Always call before you visit, and only stay a short time. Treatment is not only debilitating, it’s tiring. Your friend needs company which will help take her mind off what she’s feeling, but she also needs to be able to close her eyes and rest.

Take along something to do in case she doesn’t feel like chatting. I had a friend who came round every afternoon when I first got home from hospital. She brought her mending and would curl up in a chair at the bottom of my bed and work away quietly. I could talk if I felt like it, but I didn’t need to feel bad if I just wanted to close my eyes and dose off.  

Don’t point out past habits that may have added to her cancer diagnosis, like smoking. She is likely to feel guilty enough without you rubbing it in. The fact is, she has it. Now she needs to deal with it, and it is your responsibility to help her.

Never assume that because she is asleep, she can’t hear you. Watch what you say in front of her, or even outside the door. Say nothing negative about her condition anywhere near her, and try to encourage a positive outlook whenever possible. 

Put a notepad and pen next to her bed or favourite chair. Encourage her to jot down anything she needs you to do or to get, or even to make a note of topics she’d like to discuss. The treatment may well affect her memory. 

Be sensitive to the times when she needs space. Encourage her to tell you when she would like some time on her own, and don’t take it personally. And of course, there are also people who are best to remain in the background and not physically “be there” at all. If you are one of those, don’t despair. There are other ways to “be there” other than sitting next to a bedside. 

These are just some of the ways you can “be there” for your friend who has cancer. Can you think of more? Please add them in the comment section.

*This obviously refers to men as well. I’m using the female gender to make for easier reading.

How to Encourage Family Members or Friends who have Cancer

This entry is part 20 in the series Friends

(Originally published January 2016. Updated 23 January, 2018)


When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer with glandular involvement, I found my family members and friends reacted in one of several ways.

1) There were those who rose up and said, “We’re here for you.”

This included my family members who lived at home, and I hate to think what my year of cancer treatment would have been like without their support. But it also included many of my friends.

The evening following my surgery, I had so many visitors it was embarrassing, so I did what all post-operative patients are allowed to do and went to sleep on them! Once I returned home however, the visitors spread out, and it soon became evident those who were going to truly support us through the time. And there were a good number of them, for whom I praise God.

2) Others, including family members, didn’t cope well.

In at least one case this was because the lady had lost two family members to cancer, and couldn’t handle a third. She didn’t live in our town, but kept meaning to answer my email. However the days went by and, believe it or not, she forgot I had cancer! A couple of years later, during a phone call, she realized what had happened, and was mortified. How could she have forgotten me during that time?

On my side, I was confused that she didn’t reply to my email. She wrote to me, but it was as if she’d never heard I was ill. Only after we opened up the subject, years later, did I understand what had happened.

3)  A close family member had just moved to a foreign country across the globe.

She had tiny children and was already stressed to her limits trying to adjust. She didn’t forget—she wrote and emailed me whenever she had the chance. But her comments showed me that although she hadn’t forgotten my diagnosis and treatment, she didn’t have a clear understanding of where I was at. That hurt me, and I took it to mean a lack of interest. It couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Months later, a psychologist gave me this explanation: She had so much going on in her life, she couldn’t also cope with someone she loved dearly who had cancer and whom she couldn’t visit. Her subconscious mind created a “mental cupboard” in order to protect her emotionally, and whenever she received news from me, she skimmed through it, then stored it in the “cupboard”. When she sat down to write to me, she couldn’t bear to re-read my emails so answered it from her “filtered” memory. When I heard this explanation, it helped me so much and alleviated the hurt I had felt.

4) Others didn’t know how to speak to me or act around me, and so they kept away.

They were dealing with their own shock, and they didn’t know how we were coping. I wish they’d sat down and spoken to me. Perhaps they thought I wouldn’t notice their absence, but I did.typexnick/Flickr

5) There were those who seemed to think I was contagious. 

They visited, but stood at the door and left in a rush with some sort of excuse, which left me confused and feeling rejected.

6) Some had me dead and about to be buried.

They offered no hope. For some strange reason, they usually found it necessary to tell me all about someone they knew who had died from breast cancer. Not at all what I wanted or needed to hear.

7) One lady was devastated by my diagnosis, and seemed to want to visit so she could cry with me. 

Only thing was, I didn’t want to cry with her! She seemed to feel committed to do all she could to depress me. Eventually, my husband had to step in and try to prevent her from visiting. As soon as we saw her car draw up outside, he chased me off to bed. He could then honestly say, “I’m sorry. Shirley’s lying down.” That of course led to more stress in our lives. And the poor lady was even more worried that I seemed to spend the entire day on my bed!

8) Some struggled with my sense of humor.

They seemed to feel it was inappropriate to do battle with a life-threatening disease with a smile on my face and making jovial remarks. The trouble is, by nature I often see the funny side of not-so-funny events, and make flippant remarks to lighten the gravity of the situation. Instead of supporting me in my personal reaction, inappropriate though they might think it to be, I later learned some labelled me as being “in denial.” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

9) I received a couple of visitors that weren’t really friends at all.

This happened especially in hospital. I came to the conclusion that they were there to satisfy their own curiosity and sure enough they never came back. They probably thought I would be touched. I was just baffled! There are some strange people in this world!

10) And then there were those called to preach!

Oh my. They brought me the Gospel. They urged me to have faith in God. They quoted all the verses they could think of to convince me that if I had faith I would be healed. Far from building me up, these people annoyed me and put me on the defensive. I often had to bite my tongue. “Who do you think I’m trusting in?” I wanted to snarl in my most loving Christian fashion.

Do you have someone who is currently doing battle with cancer?

As you read through these different reactions, and there are more of course, see if you can identify where you fall in. If you are a 1), then praise the Lord for the way you are supporting your loved one. If you fall into any of the other categories, pray about your reaction. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Look at the message your reaction is giving to the patient, and look for another better way to show your support.  

Your family members or friends have professional medical assistance. They need friends. Real friends. Friends who will love, support, and accept them without judgement. Cancer is a beastly intruder in anyone’s life, and you never know how you will cope until it hits. So let them be themselves, and you just love and pray for empathy.

If you’ve had cancer, what did people do that encouraged you?

If you have a friend with cancer, what do you think you could do to bring encouragement?

Please leave an answer in the comment box below. Your words could go a long way to uplifting a person you may never meet.

Coping with Anger

This entry is part 19 in the series Friends

Angry_womanIn an earlier post, we looked at anger, and we saw that it is a normal part of the cancer roller coaster.

We’re now going to look at ways you can help a friend or family member that is riding that roller coaster, cope with their anger.

We saw the need to help your friend recognise the anger, and identify the fear, frustration or hurt behind that emotion.

Realise it’s not easy for them to admit to fear, or to share their deepest hurts or frustrations. So take it slowly. Once your loved one knows you understand, it will be easier to explore deeper, hidden feelings. You’re obviously not going to turn your back. That opens the door to discuss the unwelcome feeling and the reason behind it. read more

Attitude of Gratitude

This entry is part 18 in the series Friends

roseOne of the emotions associated with the cancer roller coaster often peaks for such short periods it is overlooked. Nevertheless it’s a very real part of the ride, and it would be good if we could find ways to make it last longer. I’m talking about the attitude of gratitude. Those brief moments when the person on the cancer journey is overwhelmed with feelings of gratefulness. read more