By Dr. Janet Brill
Learning you have a health issue, no matter what the diagnosis, is a frightening time for any individual and their loved ones. If your friend recently received a tough medical diagnosis, use these suggestions to make sure you’re there for them in any way they might need you.
Perhaps they were dealing with some scary symptoms and expected the terrible news, or the results were found on accident. No matter the origin of their diagnosis, your friend is going through a terribly scary time and it might mean they have to make huge lifestyle changes in terms of diet or exercise. Do what you can to mimic these changes when you’re with your friend. Make dinners you know they can eat, don’t drink alcohol around them, and join them in weekly walks around the neighborhood—whatever you can to make the changes seem more commonplace than they originally were.
Go With Them to Medical Appointments
Does your friend have family members that can go with them to medical appointments? If not, it’s your job to pick up the slack. Their minds will be going a thousand miles per minute, and they may not be prepared to take in and recall all that their doctor has to tell them. Go with them, listen attentively, take notes, and serve as a pillar of support.
Your Talking Points
Illness can be a difficult subject to approach, and it may be that your friend would prefer not to discuss it. However, if they have expressed an interest in talking through their fears, worries, or anything else, there are some things you should and shouldn’t say.
What You Should Say
It might be hard to come up with things to say, but there are general topics that can help your friend feel more comfortable opening up to you about the situation. First, validate their concerns. Tell them it’s okay to be fearful, angry, or resentful. Every feeling they have about this terrible situation is fair, and they shouldn’t feel ashamed of any of them. Admit to your friend that you’re not sure what to say; likely they’re feeling the same way. Finally, tell them you’re there to do anything they might need you to; this offers them an opening in which to ask for help without feeling awkward.
What You Shouldn’t Say
Unless you’ve been through the same situation, you can’t imagine how it feels to be confronted with a personal health scare. One of the worst things you can say is: I understand. You can’t know what they’re going through, but you can be there for them. Another thing to avoid talking about are previous experiences you’ve seen of their illness or disease. It won’t comfort them to learn that you know someone who died from the same diagnosis, and they don’t need to hear about someone who also received bad medical news recently. This problem is their own, and shifting the attention to someone else will only seek to invalidate their pain and justified fear.
Don’t Let Your Support Wane
Many people will reach out after hearing about your friend’s diagnosis, but that support may wane as time goes on. You need to remain a constant source of strength throughout his or her battle that they can rely on at any given time. Bring them healthy foods to keep up their energy, provide enough for their family members, and think of items you can prepare that might be frozen and used at a later date when times are tough. Offer rides to doctor appointments, pick up their kids from school, and drop off groceries when you can. It’s essential that you continue providing a shoulder to cry on, an open ear to listen to, and an open heart for your friend, as their pain and fear won’t subside even as the initial proclamations of support do.
When talking to someone dealing with an illness, you can provide more support if you understand the ins and outs of the condition. That’s why it’s essential you take the time to research what your friend may be currently experiencing and what they will have in the future. Check out books, look online, and consider support rooms for loved ones of those dealing with illness.
They’re going to be feeling down, their family will be dealing with their emotions as well, and they will definitely all be in need of some uplifting gestures. Something as simple as sending along some chocolate treats from Shari’s Berries can change their entire day around. Deliver some flowers to their home for an added bit of brightness, or show up with a personalized teddy bear. You’ll never know how much it means to them.