What do you say to a friend about his or her mother’s cancer diagnosis? Our friend’s mom was recently diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her brain. These tips on how to comfort a friend whose mom has cancer are from him and a book called Be the Miracle. His mother’s cancer taught him who his true friends are and how friendships have the power to heal, uplift, and strengthen. He shares what to say and do when your friend’s mom has cancer.
My friend’s mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple weeks ago – she has Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). This tumor started in her brain and has not spread to any other part of her body. The bad news, he said, is that GBM is a very aggressive and fast growing tumor. At first my friend was in shock and denial about his mother’s cancer. He wasn’t thinking clearly. Now, his emotions have caught up with the reality of his mom’s illness, and he finds it healing to talk about his friendships and how they helped him through the initial shock of his mother’s journey through cancer.
Ask your friend: “Do you want to talk about the cancer diagnosis and treatment plan?” When I asked my friend, he said yes, he wanted to share the protocol. My friend’s mom needs to rest to prepare for her chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She had brain surgery, and will recover for 2-4 weeks. Then, she’ll undergo six weeks of daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The most likely side effect will be fatigue; nausea is not typical for this form of chemotherapy. After six weeks, my friend’s mom will undergo chemotherapy for five days every month for six months. The overall treatment plan is known as the Stupp Protocol. The chemotherapy medication will likely be Temozolomide.
What, my friend, is the prognosis of your mom’s cancer diagnosis? The oncologist said 25-30% of patients are alive after one year under the Stupp Protocol. Some cancer patients achieve complete remission, and the cancer doesn’t return. This is not a treatment for brain cancer that works for majority of people, but for some it works quite well.
How do you feel about your mom’s diagnosis and treatment plan? The cancer counselor, who works alongside the oncologist, stressed the importance of remembering that different treatment plans work for different people.
If your friend’s mom has cancer, never criticize the diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment plan. Don’t share stories of chemotherapy problems, cancer deaths, moms suffering, families grieving. Just listen. Be present and open-hearted when your friend talks about the cancer and treatment. The best way to comfort a friend through cancer is to be supportive, hopeful, and positive.
If your friend’s mom has breast cancer, read 17 Gift Ideas for Women After a Single or Double Mastectomy.
8 Ways to Comfort a Friend Whose Mom Has Cancer
The foundation of these tips are from my friend, whose mother underwent several rounds of chemo and radiation. I added a few thoughts to each tip. My friend’s number one request was prayer. He asked us to pray for the best possible outcome and – as his mom would say – for God’s will to be done.
“When everyone else flees, be the one who stays,” writes Regina Brett in Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible. She says she’s always wanted to give people a ‘cheat sheet’ on what to say to people who have cancer. In Be the Miracle, she shares how to help someone with cancer, including what to and what not to say throughout the course of the diagnosis and chemotherapy treatments.
Regina Brett had cancer. Her book is an excellent source of comfort and support for anyone walking through a painful diagnosis and treatment. I share some of her advice in this article.
1. Don’t show up at your friend’s home or mom’s hospital unexpectedly
Schedule short face to face visits – your friend may have organized visitation for her mom for the first while. If you want to visit, phone or text your friend first. Only stay for a short time, and don’t visit with lots of people. If you’re finding it difficult to know how to comfort a friend, be patient. She’ll be dealing with alot of different things when her mom has cancer, and may not be able to answer messages right away.
Send hard copy notes or encouragement. Your friend may be receiving lots of email and text support, and hardly any print letters or cards. Remember that many people appreciate sympathy cards and condolence messages in print.
2. Avoid asking too many medical questions or offering health advice
If you’re curious about your friend’s mom’s treatment and prognosis, ask if it’s okay to ask before you ask. In other words, say: “I’m curious and concerned about your mom’s cancer recovery process. Do you mind talking about it? If you want to talk about it, I have lots of questions! Stop me anytime.”
If your friend’s mom has cancer, don’t:
- Offer medical advice or alternative treatment tips
- Bombard your friend or his mom with medical questions or treatment suggestions unless they clearly tell you it’s okay to ask or give advice.
- Share horror stories about painful chemotherapy treatments, inept nurses, and inconsiderate oncologists. Don’t talk about how painful it is to die from cancer.
- Overreact and jump from cancer diagnosis to death. Cancer is not the death sentence it used to be.
“Whether you agree or not, respect the choices your friend’s mom has made,” writes Brett in Be the Miracle. You are not the oncologist. Don’t offer cancer-fighting tips or discourage someone with cancer from pursuing chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatment choices. Support and comfort your friend by accepting her family’s decisions and her mom’s wishes without judging or lecturing. Stay positive, hopeful, and optimistic. Acknowledge the pain that a cancer diagnosis brings, but don’t add to the grief by telling sad stories.
3. Offer practical forms of support without being asked
Volunteer to drive your friend or mom to the chemotherapy treatments or oncologist appointments. Offer to take notes during meetings and appointments, or to record the session. But, it’s also important to respect your friend’s privacy and her mom’s journey through cancer. What this looks like in practical ways depends on your friend, her mom, and their family.
“Allow the patient some privacy,” writes Brett. “Some people with cancer want to keep their medical situations private. Others go public. Each person has the right to keep quiet or shout it from the rooftops.” No matter how you would deal with cancer (or how you survived your own fight with cancer!), you need to respect the journey of others. One of the most important ways to help someone with cancer is to put aside your personality and perspectives, and try to see through patient’s eyes.
If you want to give your friend a gift that shows your support and love, read Sympathy Gifts for the Loss of a Mother. Your friend’s mom hasn’t passed along yet, but the right sympathy gift will give your friend strength and courage to keep moving forward.
4. Make specific suggestions about what you can do to help your friend
In How to Help Your Partner Cope With Your Cancer Diagnosis, a reader asked how to comfort his girlfriend. He was diagnosed with cancer, and his girlfriend was devastated. If you aren’t sure how to comfort a friend through a cancer experience, ask her. She may know exactly what she needs, and exactly how you can comfort her.
“My mom getting cancer is not something we would have wished for,” says my friend. “This said, I have already seen blessing in the midst of these challenges. God is always at work and this is an important time to notice the hand of God in my mom’s life and in all of our lives. Instead of asking what you can do, ask if you can drive her and her mom to the chemotherapy treatments, oncologist’s appointments, or pharmacy. Ask if you can make chicken broth or do a load of laundry. Look at the patient’s life: are there pets, children, aging parents, homes, gardens, or ailing partners that need attention?
Cancer may make your friend – and her mom – angry, exhausted, scared, depressed, irritated, stressed, and sad. If you want to help your friend through this, don’t let her behavior determine your actions. If she’s grumpy or snappy, remember that she is physically and emotionally worn out. Her mother’s cancer diagnosis may be the worst thing she has ever faced. So, be the person who not only stays through the calm, but who also stays through the storm of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Learn how to help your friend cope with cancer from her perspective – not from your own preferences or viewpoints.
5. Help your friend delegate duties for her mom’s care
This is one of the most practical tips on how to help your friend’s mom with cancer, especially if they don’t have a caregiver: Make a list of what your friend’s mom needs and wants. Make a list of family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who might be the best people to meet those needs and wants.
In Be the Miracle Brett suggests organizing people into “committees.” For instance, the Beauty Committee helped pencil in her eyebrows, tie her head scarf, and pick the right earrings to soften the glare of her bald head. The Food Committee took care of meals and snacks; the Entertainment Committee provided Netflix movies, magazines, and library books. The Spiritual Committee offered prayer, yoga, journaling, music therapy, Reiki, and inspirational sermons on podcasts.
6. Don’t be afraid to call and say you don’t know what to say
My friend had breast cancer a few years ago, and several of her friends stopped calling her. They said it was because they were so sad and scared, they’d just cry if they called her. So they did nothing…which is the worst way to comfort a friend who is dealing with cancer. It’s not comforting at all, in fact.
“Cancer brings out the best and the worst in people,” writes Brett in Be the Miracle. “When it came to my friends, cancer separated the weak from the strong.” Some friends flee after the diagnosis, partly because they don’t know what to say or how to help someone with cancer. Or they’re scared…or they can’t bear to see what cancer, chemotherapy, and other treatments do. When your friend’s mom gets diagnosed with cancer, your friend needs to you stay connected. No matter how hard it is for you.
7. Harness the power of friends – a group effort to support someone through cancer
Here’s another way to comfort a friend whose mom has cancer: go public. I was searching for tips on comforting friends through a cancer diagnosis, and found an article in the Cannon Falls Beacon. It’s called CF boy’s friends rally for mom’s fight with breast cancer; in it, Ken Haggerty reports a different way to help a friend whose mom has cancer.
Laura Mech is a 36 year old mom of three who was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer, during a self-exam. She’s a Registered Nurse, and she and her husband Eric received a great deal of community support. Their son, Grant, was on a baseball team and football team during Laura’s treatment for breast cancer, and both teams donned pink laces on their muddy sports cleats as a sign of support for Laura. Two of Laura’s friends, Stacia Ulrich and Judy Conway, had pink t-shirts with the logo “Laura’s Fight Club” on them. Grant’s classmates, teachers and others have been wearing them on Mondays (the day Laura has twice monthly chemo treatments).
“It’s hard to be angry or bitter when you receive so much support,” said Laura. “So many wonderful things have come out of this.” She said she may consider a career change aimed at helping others who don’t have as much support as she has. “I really have come to believe that what you put out in life, you get back ten-fold.”
8. Accept who your friend is and how she copes with her mom’s cancer
The most important tip on how to comfort a friend whose mom has cancer is to be sensitive to how support is perceived and received. If I had cancer, I wouldn’t want people to wear t-shirts with my name on them or chant my name during a school sports event. I would find it embarrassing and energy-draining. It’s important to remember that your friend will find different things supportive than you would. You might even be surprised by what does support and comfort your friend during her mom’s cancer journey.
A Willow Tree Figurine – “My Sister My Friend” is a beautiful symbol of friendship and comfort. These figurative sculptures speak in quiet ways to heal, inspire, and connect with people we care about. A symbol of your friendship can be a beautiful way to comfort your friend and help her cope with her mom’s cancer.
Be there for your friend. Don’t worry about saying and doing the right things; just show up and be there. Be yourself. Offer yourself.
“After my mom ended up in hospice care, she still talked about getting the next chemotherapy treatments,” says my friend. “We knew there weren’t going to be any more, but we allowed her to hope. We didn’t have to remind her she was dying.” She was 62. My friend listened to his mom and encouraged her to relax so she could get her energy back.
Her friends helped her savor every meal, every visitor, every ray of sunshine coming into her room before she died.