When I was going through cancer treatment, I soon discovered that people often didn't know how to speak to me, or how to act around me, so they opted to stay away. Perhaps they didn't think I'd notice, but they were wrong. I did.
It is never easy to know what to say when a friend or loved one has received bad news. We feel as if there must be something we could say that would make things easier for the person. In this case, there must be something we can offer to do that will help the cancer victim. So why don't we know what it is?
Unfortunately there is no "right thing to say." There is no "this is what we should do." The most important thing you can do is want to help and let them know this. It's not what we say, it's how we listen. It's not what we do, it's being there for them.
Encourage your friends in crisis to speak. As they tell you about their feelings, their fears, their reactions, you will spot an opportunity to say something. But don't sit there trying to think of something clever. They'll soon realise you're not paying attention. The most important thing is that you are allowing them to talk.
Talk to them like you would normally. Ask about their children or their grandchildren. Tell them about an amusing event that happened recently to you. Talk about the price of butter. Because they have cancer doesn't mean they've dropped off Planet Earth. If you can get their minds off their diagnosis, that's great.
Yesterday, I visited a good friend who is dying. He is in his last few days. He knows it, and I know it. As I came in the door, he stretched out his hand and I took it. He proceeded to lead the conversation, despite being heavily sedated, and spoke of a recent church activity, then got on to the topic of leading the worship with a guitar (which he did until last week!) His final words to me before I insisted I was going before "the nurse" (his wife) chucked me out, was to speak to me about my overdose of computers. He stressed the need for me to get up more and move around. His probably parting words to me—and they were expressing concern for me, not about himself.
While they're talking, maintain eye contact. This can be hard to do if the person has lost a lot of weight, or looks dreadful, or is perhaps confused, but it is perhaps the most key issue in showing them you care. They need to talk. They need to believe you are interested in them. They need to know you care. So don't stay away. Pop in and visit, for a short time, and let them lead the talking.