Master these basic rules and creative and unique ways to support your friend with cancer will flow!
Rule #1 It's not about you.
Keep your feelings in check for the moment. I know that may sound harsh. Most people understand that their friend's or co-worker's cancer isn't about them in their brain, but our emotions see it differently. Some common first reactions to the news of cancer are, "Are you sure?" "Are you going to die?" "At least it's…," "You're so brave!" "Have you tried…" or "If you need anything, let me know."
While all of these statements sound helpful, they .... are .... not! They are evidence of the speaker's emotions run wild. Each statement either downplays the news's seriousness, tries to fix it, or distances the speaker emotionally from the person with cancer. (When you say "You're so brave" what you are really saying is "I am not brave. I could never handle that situation. I'm not even going to consider what it must feel like. I refuse to be empathetic. You are different from me." Not what the person with cancer wants to feel!)
Hearing that someone you care about has cancer is unsettling. Allow yourself time to process your feelings apart from the person with cancer. Do NOT process your feelings with the person with cancer immediately after the news is delivered.
One caveat. It is ok to cry AS LONG AS your friend with cancer doesn't feel the need to comfort you! That is not cool.
Rule #2 Remind yourself your job is not to "fix" the situation.
You cannot fix this situation. It's not your job to fix this situation. Your job is to sit in the discomfort that you cannot "make this better." It is not fun. There is no joy, in the beginning, in understanding your powerlessness. But it is from that place that you will be able to find the best ways to bring joy and comfort to your friend with cancer. Once you know you can't fix it, your focus will be on little things that will make their lives better. That you CAN do!
Rule #3 - Remember you matter.
Often, we fear our powerlessness to fix something means that we don't matter. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Your friend or co-worker with cancer shared this information with you because you matter to them. You will probably never know why, but you do. So how do you show up?
If you cracked jokes before, continue to crack jokes. If you think of them while you are in the grocery store, call and ask if they need anything. If a movie reminds you of them, schedule a watch party. Or text them and say you are thinking of them.