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When a Friend Has Cancer

Medically reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD

Everyone knows that doctors are really important when a kid has cancer. But did you know that friends are really important, too?

If your friend has cancer, there's a lot you can do to help. Being sick can make a person feel alone, especially if he or she is in the hospital or missing a lot of school. Your friend needs you. The most important thing you can do is visit and stay in touch.

Here are some other things you can do to help your friend:

Be yourself. It's normal to be scared when someone you care about has cancer — you may not know what to do or how to act. You may wonder, does my friend want to see me? Will my friend be different?

You may feel guilty for being healthy or feel angry at your friend's cancer. You may also want to pretend it's not happening. That's normal too. Your friend probably feels the same way.

The more time you spend with your friend, the more you'll relax. He or she may look different or get tired more often but is still the same person you know and care about. Try to have fun and act the way you usually do when you're together.

Learn the basics. It helps to understand a little about cancer and what your friend is going through. In medical terms, cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that causes illness in the body. It is not contagious and no one caused your friend to get cancer.

It's OK to talk about it. You probably have a lot of questions about what is happening. It's OK to be curious and want to learn more — you can ask your parents, the doctors in the hospital, your friend's parents, or other adults you trust. Your friend and your friend's family may want to talk about the illness and the treatment.

…but listen to your friend. There will be times when your friend won't want to talk about cancer. He or she may just want to play and hang out with you the way you used to. Sometimes, a joke or a funny story about school is just what the doctor ordered! Try to listen and sense what your friend needs.

Offer to help. Don't wait until your friend asks for help. Offer something specific to help your friend. For instance, "I'll bring home your assignments from school." Or make a plan to hang out and do homework together.

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Take care of yourself. Your friend's cancer can be hard on you too. If you feel scared and sad, talk to your parents or someone you trust. If you keep a journal, it can help to write down your feelings.

Make creative connections. Look for creative ways to help your friend feel connected and in touch. For example, start an online group of friends and classmates. It's a fun way to have a conversation even when all of you can't be together in person.

Low-tech solutions are also fun. Ask your teacher or art teacher if the class can make cards or notes for your friend. Getting a whole pile of mail might be the boost your friend needs, especially if people draw and write silly things on the cards.

Maybe your friend has a special hobby; for example, collecting sports cards, quarters, stickers, pins, or books about horses. Whatever it is, why not get a few additions for his or her collection? If it's something small — like baseball cards — each friend can join in on this group gift.

Here's a hospital-room makeover idea from the mother of a 10-year-old who has cancer. It's easy to create a room border by bringing a big roll of paper, markers, and some painter's tape — the kind that can be easily removed. Hang the paper on the hospital room walls.

Whenever visitors come, they get to sign the wall. It's kind of like signing someone's cast. You can be the first person to sign. Make sure your friend signs it too. Hopefully, before long he or she can write "I'm cancer-free!"

Medically reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018