5 Christian Tips For Supporting A Friend With Cancer

by David Peach · Print Print · Email Email

When your friend receives the news of having cancer, how should you respond? It seems like cancer is being diagnosed more and more these days. The longer we live, the greater the likelihood that one of our friends will be diagnosed with the dreaded disease.

It is hard to give a list of things that will be most comforting in every situation, but here are some tips for supporting your friend who has cancer.

#1  Educate Yourself

You don’t need to have the knowledge of a doctor, nor should you give advice like one; but learning about the particular type of cancer your friend has will help them. First, they won’t need to go into all the scary details trying to explain the cancer to you. You won’t have to ask questions your friend may not be ready to answer. You also demonstrate that you care by making the effort to understand the problem.

With this self-education you may gain some knowledge that your friend may not know. Ask God to give you wisdom in sharing what you have learned. It may be best to keep your new-found information to yourself. It could also be that God would have you share some of your research. Be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in this matter. Telling someone that there is a 65% cure rate really isn’t that comforting no matter how much hope it gives you.

You should keep the following things in mind when doing your research on your friend’s situation. Remember that doctors spend years learning about the human body and how it responds to diseases. It would be foolish to think that our 30 minutes of research on the Internet gives us more knowledge than those doctors. And just because something is available on the Internet does not mean that it is necessarily true.

#2  Be There

When I say you should be there for your friend, in many cases that is all that is necessary at the time: be present. You may not need to say anything. You may not need to do anything. Just your presence may be all they need. They may not know the time sacrifice you may be making for them. Don’t feel the need to point that out to them. They may not be able to express why your presence is helpful, just know that it is. They will appreciate it later even if they don’t know why at the time.

During your time together (which may be silent and awkward) pray for your friend. These may be silent prayers; or, if appropriate, gently and confidently call out to God on your friend’s behalf.

#3  Offer Help

Sometimes people don’t know how to ask for help. We all know that life is busy. Your friend may not want to bother you with a task. Don’t make them feel bad for not asking, but offer to help. Be proactive in your offer. Don’t just say, “Can I help you with anything?” Ask your friend specific questions like, “Would it be OK for me to pick up your kids from school?”, “Can I take your dog for a walk this afternoon?”, or “I could stop by on Sunday morning and help you get your kids ready for church. What time should I be here?”

Small tasks that are normally important to your friend may be easily forgotten. Notice those things and take care of them. This could include mowing the lawn, doing laundry, watering the plants, or taking the children to the library on Saturday morning.

#4  Create Distractions

Don’t let the cancer drown out everything else in their life.

Don’t let the cancer drown out everything else in their life.

It is certainly appropriate to talk about the cancer and the diagnosis. This is the foremost thing in your friend’s mind. However, don’t let the cancer drown out everything else in their life. Continue to talk about normal topics of interest you share. If you are both involved in a hobby, try to get your friend to engage in that pastime.

Often when people receive a hard diagnosis they don’t want to go right back to church. They want to avoid the questions and the need to explain multiple times what is going on. This is understandable, but you should try to gently encourage your friend back to church. Public worship can be difficult, but it can also provide that much-needed distraction.

These distracting topics or activities will give your friend a chance to focus on something else for a while. This does not cure the cancer, but it can be a wonderful mental break from everything else that is going on.

#5  Say The Right Things

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Just be present. But there are some things that can be helpful to say to your friend during this time. There are also some things you should avoid saying.

Things not to say:

    • Anything that puts the focus on you: I feel helpless. I know how you feel.
    • Anything that trivializes the situation or makes a comparison to something worse: You’ll be fine. Don’t worry. You just need to pray. It could be worse. God has a reason.
    • Observations should be avoided: You don’t look sick. Wow! You’ve lost so much weight.

Things that are appropriate to say:

    • I love you.
    • I am thinking about you.
    • I am praying for you.
    • I don’t know what to say, but I want to be here for you.

Let them talk when they want to talk. You don’t have to lead every conversation (though for appropriate distractions, you may need to take control). Don’t insist they talk. Make yourself available at any time they would like to call or text. And let them know that it is OK for them to not answer the phone when you call. Respect their need to not answer questions or give information.

When they want to talk, give them your full attention. Look them in the eye and put your cell phone away. Don’t give them any reason to think that something else is more important than them at the moment. There are times when people become overly self-centered as the process wears on, but initially you should give them all the attention they need to feel like you really are wanting to support them.

While you are supporting your friend, don’t neglect their family who is also hurting during this time. A friend of mine recently went through a difficult illness and death. His wife was trying to get information to our small network of friends, but had trouble remembering what information she told to what people. We were able to help by having her give all the information she wanted to share to one particular friend. That person then took the responsibility to tell everyone else. Once the burden of being a broadcaster was out of the way she was able to focus her attention on having the best last few days with her husband that she could have. Find ways to help the immediate family members during this process.

May God give you the grace to be a true and loving friend to your friend in need.

Related reading: 17 Inspirational Bible Verses for Cancer Patients

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Garnham November 15, 2017 at 6:56 pm

I just found out I have a high grade bladder cancer. I HAVE NO RISK FACTORS and am a 46 yr old woman. The thing has has driven me away from church is being preached at, and being lectured about worrying if the next test result will be worse (so far every test makes my prognosis worse!)
Please just be supportive and dont tell the person suffering how to feel.

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Jack Wellman November 15, 2017 at 8:57 pm

Hello Michelle. I am so sorry my friend. I agree with your advice. We need to think of the person and support them…no one but they truly know what that feels like.

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