Page Leggett

In 2018, an estimated 1.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. and the disease claimed nearly 610,000 lives. We don’t always know what to do when a friend falls ill. As a cancer patient myself, here’s what I learned.

Acknowledge it. Don’t know what to say? It’s OK. But say something – whether it’s via a note in the mail, a phone call, a Facebook message or some other way. “I’m thinking about you” is enough. I heard from acquaintances and friends from middle school I hadn’t seen in decades. It was all joyous.   

Honor your friend’s wishes. If your friend says she’s not up to visitors, trust that she’s not just playing hard-to-get. Trying to force a good time on her won’t work for either of you.

Avoid extolling the benefits of a positive attitude. Cancer can turn the purest Pollyanna into a clear-eyed realist. Allow your friend to have a down day or two. A well-intentioned someone who hadn’t had cancer telling me that a positive attitude could lead to a good outcome didn’t suddenly change my mood. At least not for the better.

If you feel compelled, do something. Send a plant. Write a letter. Bring over a book you love. Offer to drive your friend to an appointment. Every act of kindness is therapeutic.

Do not mention how different your friend looks. She already knows. I ran into one longtime acquaintance after I stopped wearing my chemo cap. “Wow,” she said. “I didn’t recognize you!” It’s the most thoughtless thing anyone said to me during or after the ordeal.

Food is love. Make a casserole. Buy some cookies. One acquaintance(!) of mine researched what people on chemo could eat. She brought me homemade blanc mange, which was soothing to my sore throat and soul.

Check on the caregivers. My cancer took a toll on my parents. I was grateful when people checked in on them, wrote them, brought over meals.

     Page Leggett is a freelance writer in Charlotte and regular contributor to Healthy Headlines.

    Novant Health Buddy Kemp Cancer Support Center offers support to any individuals impacted by a cancer diagnosis throughout the Charlotte region. Services include counseling, support groups, special events and more.