My friend has cancer

So you've heard the news. Your friend has cancer and it's like, WTF? How did that even happen? It's rare for teenagers and young adults to get cancer. Any experience you've had with cancer has probably been an older person. But this is different - this is your friend. And cancer will change both your lives. So what can you do? Well, coming here is a good start.

Cancer is overwhelming. Your friend will have different challenges to deal with but no one expects you to suddenly turn into a counsellor – including your friend! That’s not your job. Your job is to just be a good mate. So in principle, that means keeping things real and bringing the ‘normal’ back into your friend’s life.

You don’t have to solve everything. Just be there and make sure your friend knows you are.

Where will they be treated?

Your friend might be treated in their local hospital or they might travel to a specialist treatment centre for young people. They might be able to carry on with normal life at home, or they might have to stay in hospital for a long time. It all depends on their personal plan of action. Hospital can be isolating and lonely, so one thing you can do to help is make sure you stay in regular contact.

How will they feel on treatment?

Treatment can be gruelling physically and emotionally. So your friend’s likely to feel pretty rubbish. Side effects can include feeling sick and super tired. Steroids can make people put on weight and chemo causes hair loss. Imagine if this was you. Would your self-esteem take a hit?

How will they feel after treatment?

Finishing treatment isn’t always a time for celebration and partying. No doubt it’s an important and positive milestone. But “getting back to normal” is easier said than done. Cancer might have forced your friend to change their plans. They might have missed college, quit working or moved back home. There’ll be a lot of practical stuff to sort out to get their life back on track, and maybe they could use some help?

Emotionally, it’ll be a weird time. Surprisingly, hospitals bring a big, caring network of people, who they might be missing. They’ll feel pressure to not keep talking about their cancer with friends, and they might think no one can really understand how they feel. On top of that, there’s the physical effects, like fatigue or fertility issues from treatment. And then there’s the fear of the cancer coming back, and massive anxiety about their follow up tests. Now is the time that they’re going to need you.

How can I help my friend?

Read more about what your friend is dealing with

Understanding what your friend’s up against can really make a difference. Browse our info for young people with cancer by topic to familiarise yourself with some of the issues they might be up against.

Support yourself

Being there for your friend doesn’t mean that you’re not going to feel down at times too. Watching someone you care about go through cancer can be scary and tough. Supporting your friend means pressure on your shoulders while you also have to deal with your own emotions.

It’s normal to feel sad or low – and you shouldn’t feel guilty or selfish. In fact, sometimes admitting this to your friend can help you both open up to each other and bring you closer. It’s also important that you have someone who will listen to how you’re feeling too. So talk to another friend, your family, doctor or a counsellor.