When Someone You Know Has Cancer

There are many ways of dealing with this life-threatening disease. Here are some pointers from teens who know.

When a life-threatening disease like cancer strikes someone you know or love, everything changes. Perhaps, for example, your mom’s too tired from chemotherapy to come to your basketball games. Or maybe your friend can’t gossip on the phone anymore because he’s recovering from a bone marrow transplant. Suddenly you have to deal with intense feelings, added responsibilities, and scary medical information.

How can you handle all this and still feel OK?

Sorting It Out

For starters, get educated, browsing medical Internet Web sites for information. The more you know, the less afraid you’ll be. Also, contact the American Cancer Society, hospitals, and community health agencies. Or speak to your school nurse or librarian.

Also, try confiding in teachers, parents, and other relatives, friends, and counselors. Or ask health professionals for referrals to support groups, social workers, and psychologists.

Most people need comfort and reassurance. Sharing feelings with patients also can help, but not all friends or relatives are able or willing.

How You Can Help

The most direct way to help your friend or relative through his or her cancer battle is to be a combination cheerleader and good sounding board. Here are some hints:

  • Adopt a positive attitude. Don’t talk as if cancer is a death sentence,.
  • Send cards and gifts.
  • Joke, sing, read to the person. Chat about everyday stuff, or just hold hands.
  • Be available. Run errands, carry out family chores, and go together to sports events, parties, and other special activities. If the patient needs rest, try cocooning.
  • Act naturally but sensitively. Don’t treat the person like an outsider or alien.

But keep in mind: You can only become a great “cancer coach” if you’re not falling apart yourself.

Here are some tips to keep emotionally balanced:

  • Combine your concerns about cancer with positive action. Raise funds for cancer organizations.
  • Explore your artistic side. Paint a picture, compose a song, or write poetry or short stories with cancer-related themes.
  • Seek out support groups.
  • Read inspirational biographies or articles about people who beat cancer.
  • Stick to normal school routines as much as possible, but ask for opportunities to combine your concerns about cancer with school projects. For example, write a speech or essay for your school paper about patient advocacy.
  • Visit a cancer ward to cheer up kids or adults.
  • Exercise, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep.
  • Take as many fun breaks as possible with friends or family.
  • Pray, meditate, do yoga.
  • Find a member of the clergy to speak to.
  • Avoid taking on the role or duties of the patient.

Living with cancer is challenging, but remissions and permanent cures are possible.

Cancer Facts

  • Cancer is an “umbrella” term that describes diseases in which healthy cells become malignant (sick); crowd out the “good” cells, and cause illness. For instance, in leukemia, blood cells go haywire. But bad cells also can go wild in other areas of the body, such as the bone, brain, eye, and kidney.
  • The causes of cancer range from chemicals, radiation, the sun, asbestos, and viruses to hormones, autoimmune conditions, and inherited mutations (body changes).
  • Traditional cancer treatments include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy (medicines), hormone therapy, and/or immunotherapy (methods to boost the immune system).