My friend has cancer

So you’ve heard the news. Your friend has cancer and it’s like, WTF? How did that even happen? Cancer will undoubtedly have a big impact on their life - and possibly yours. So what can you do to help? Laura, our Young People's Community Worker, has developed some tips and advice.

It’s rare for teenagers and young adults to get cancer. Any experience you’ve had with cancer has probably been an older person. But this is different – this is your friend.

Cancer is overwhelming. Your friend will have different challenges to deal with but no one expects you to suddenly turn into a counsellor – including your friend! That’s not your job. Just be a good mate, be there and be yourself. We’ve got some tips and information below to help you with that.  

Where will they be treated?

Your friend might be treated in their local hospital or they might travel to a specialist treatment centre for young people. They might be able to carry on with normal life at home, or they might have to stay in hospital for a long time. It all depends on their personal plan of action. Hospital can be isolating and lonely, so one thing you can do to help is make sure you stay in regular contact.

How will they feel on treatment?

Treatment can be gruelling physically and emotionally. So your friend’s likely to feel pretty rubbish. Side effects can include feeling sick and super tired. Steroids can make people put on weight and chemo causes hair loss. It’s important not to look at them or treat them any differently as they are the same friend behind all these side effects.

How will they feel after treatment?

Finishing treatment isn’t always a time for celebration and partying. No doubt it’s an important and positive milestone. But “getting back to normal” is easier said than done. Cancer might have forced your friend to change their plans. They might have missed college, quit working or moved back home. There’ll be a lot of practical stuff to sort out to get their life back on track, and maybe they could use some help?

Emotionally, it’ll be a weird time. Hospitals bring a comfort and a caring network of people, that they might miss. They’ll feel pressure to not keep talking about their cancer, and might think no one understands how they feel. There’s also the fear of the cancer coming back, and anxiety about the future. On top of that, there’s the physical effects, like fatigue or fertility issues from treatment. Now is the time that they’re going to need you.

Those who supported me the best were those that remembered that even though I had been diagnosed with cancer, I was still me. They weren’t scared to talk to me, to ask questions, but, most importantly, be normal with me. They sent messages without expectation of a response, came round to see me, took seriously the need to make sure they weren’t unwell when, complimented my bald head, made me smile, and they loved me throughout.

Hannah

How can I help my friend?

The friends who never give up on us even when we decline - invite after invite to go out or to see them. The friends who understand we don't always feel up to going out. So instead they don't give up like many others do, they persevere and make sure we aren't forgotten about, they come to us when we can't come to them!

Lucie

Read more about what your friend is dealing with

Understanding what your friend’s up against can really make a difference. Browse our info for young people with cancer by topic to familiarise yourself with some of the issues they might be up against.

Support yourself

Being there for your friend doesn’t mean that you’re not going to feel down at times too. Watching someone you care about go through cancer can be scary and tough. Supporting your friend means pressure on your shoulders while you also have to deal with your own emotions.

It’s normal to feel sad or low – and you shouldn’t feel guilty or selfish. It’s also important that you have someone who will listen to how you’re feeling too. So talk to another friend, your family, doctor or a counsellor. The Ring Theory is a brilliant thing to keep in mind when you’re venting to consider who and where it is appropriate to share your upset or frustrations.