Upon hearing that your best friend has breast cancer, the first reaction is likely to be a combination of shock, denial and fear. This can’t be happening, you think – not to her. Not to you. You question her diagnosis, ask if she’s sure … can’t she get another opinion? 

As you come to grips with the situation, you realize that your friend needs you to be there for her. She’s scared, frightened for her family, her future, and her life.

You resolve to be there for her and to do whatever it takes to help her get through this. And, you promise yourself (you beg of God), she WILL get through this. You’ll be there for her, every step of the way, confident in the knowledge that she would do the same for you.

But what do you do? How can you help?

When someone you love has cancer, says the American Cancer Society, there are things you should do, as well as things you shouldn’t. Some of the things you should do include acknowledging the situation, expressing concern, listening, offering to help, sharing your feelings openly and asking about her feelings.

Things to avoid include pressuring your friend to “be brave,” to “stay strong for her family,” or to “stay positive.” If she feels pressured or responsible for the feelings of everyone around her, she won’t be able to speak openly and honestly with you – or anyone – about how she really feels. 

Be honest with her about your feelings. Let her know if you are worried or if you feel helpless, but assure her that no matter what, you will always be there for her and for her family, if she needs. Don’t discuss appearance (she knows how she looks, and really, who cares?) and avoid sharing stories of others you know who had cancer. This is about her, not anyone else.

Keep your relationship normal. Talk about everything … just like always. You can talk about the cancer and treatment, but talk about everything else, too. Keep your friend in the loop about what’s going on in your life; don’t make her feel locked out. She needs to feel needed in the relationship too.

Be funny when appropriate; laughter is good! Make plans for the future – tomorrow, next week, next year – she needs to have something to look forward to, but keep those plans flexible.

Don’t just offer to help; make it an offer she won’t be able to refuse. Be there for her, no matter what. Don’t wait for her to ask for something; give her what you know she would want or need.

Celebrate life. Help her with her hair, her laundry, cleaning the house, picking up groceries. Enlist the help of friends and family to help with meals, and no matter how much she protests, keep it up. Life goes on and your job is to help her go on with it … or at least the daily ins-and-outs of life that makes each of us feel normal and grounded. 

Do things with your friend that are part of her new normal.  Go to the doctor with her. Go with her to chemo or radiation treatments. Go with her, but as her friend; as someone who knows her, not her with cancer.

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease. —Mark 5:34

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