When a friend has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it can be hard to know what to do or how exactly to act. What’s the appropriate reaction when you first see him after the diagnosis? Does he expect sympathy? Or perhaps a steady stream of funny jokes to get his mind off his condition?
And what about after that initial visit? Do you bring him hot chicken soup from his favorite deli? Does he want company, or would he prefer to be alone to rest and take in his new reality? What do you talk about with someone who may be facing a potential life or death situation?
For the patient, a prostate cancer diagnosis brings a host of unknowns and complicated emotions and reactions. But it can also be awkward for his friends, who want to be supportive and helpful, but may not be sure how.
A friend in need
In forming your plan, it’s always a good idea to consider what your friend is going through, physically and emotionally. Consider the range of possibilities:
- He is likely feeling a range of emotions from the news that he has cancer and anticipating the course of treatment ahead.
- He has probably had (and will continue to have) many interactions with physicians and office staff — and possibly his insurance carrier, which can be frustrating.
- He could be mentally fatigued and overwhelmed.
- He may feel isolated, like an outcast in a world of otherwise healthy people.
- If the prostate cancer is advanced, he may be experiencing physical symptoms and considerable discomfort, as well as fear.
- If so, he could be on medications that leave him feeling tired, sick or uncomfortable.
Your friend needs you now more than ever. Studies consistently find benefits of strong emotional connections and friendship networks for cancer patients.
Things you can do to support your friend
There are many valuable kinds of support friends can provide, including emotional, logistical and informational.
- Realize that he needs you now more than ever. Defer to him and his needs. Be compassionate.
- Empathize and recognize the hardships or challenges that he faces.
- Let your friend know that it’s perfectly OK to express emotions.
- Bring small gifts, like a houseplant, a book or a card drawn by your child.
- Recognize signs of progress and share it with others.
- Visit him in person. Or take him out, if he’s up for it.
- Offer help with errands like grocery shopping, household chores such as cleaning, caregiving, transportation to appointments, picking up medications, and so forth.
- Cook food for him or deliver fresh meals.
- Offer suggestions for navigating challenges.
- Help find useful medical information.
- Attend medical appointments with your friend and take notes.
- Provide helpful reminders.
When it comes to communication, try to talk about the same things you’ve always discussed. He may be eager to hear things that aren’t scary or stress-inducing. Stay positive, but avoid making comparisons to others who’ve had cancer, since every patient’s experience and case is different. Let your friend discuss cancer only if he wants to. He may be sick of it and eager for diversion.
If you’re stuck trying to find something to talk about, here are some things you can say:
- I don’t know what to say.
- I’m sorry this is happening to you.
- I’m here for you.
- What can I do for you/how can I help?
Listen and be open. Ask your friend how he’s doing and feeling — and if he doesn’t want you probing, that’s OK. He may prefer to listen to you and hear about everyday normal life from someone who isn’t sick. If you don’t know what to talk about, it’s fine to say so. Just ask.
Now is the time to follow your friend’s lead.
Sometimes, saying nothing is supportive, too. Just being there and spending time can speak volumes. Your presence is enough to show your friend that you care about him and want him to get better — and that alone can go a long way for him.