Three Ways to Care for a Friend with Cancer

Guest Post by Marissa Henley

3 Ways to care for a friend with cancer

Has this ever happened to you? Your phone buzzes, and you look down to see a call from a friend who’s expecting biopsy results. The minute you hear her voice, you know: it’s cancer.

As you process your shock, sadness, and fear, you wonder how you should walk this road with your friend. How can you support her as she endures treatment and survivorship? How will you avoid doing or saying the wrong thing? What does she need most?

I’ve gotten that phone call from a friend. I’ve also been the tearful voice on the other end of the line.

In October 2010, I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called angiosarcoma. I endured several months of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, most of which took place 700 miles away at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. My besties kept my household running, meals showed up three times a week, and the prayers of thousands encouraged and sustained me.

I wish every cancer-fighter could feel as loved and supported as I was. But too often, we hesitate to reach out with supportive words and actions. We’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing.

Even as a survivor, I struggle to know how to encourage friends in the midst of cancer and other health crises. This isn’t easy to navigate! Although I’m going to share with you some tips I’ve learned along the way, I want you to know I’m a fellow struggler. We’re all in this together as we seek to love our friends well.

1. Consider your circle.

The first step to supporting a friend in a health crisis is to evaluate where you fall in her circle of friends. Are you one of a few close, inner circle friends? A middle circle friend with common interests who socializes occasionally? Or an outer circle acquaintance?

In these days of social media, it’s easy to be confused about the level of our friendship. Knowing what she ate for breakfast yesterday doesn’t make you an inner circle friend. We also need to realize that each of the circles has an important role to play. If you’re an outer circle friend, don’t quit reading! Your friend needs you.

Inner circle friends care for the most personal, intimate needs: caring for her physically and emotionally, keeping her young children, and accompanying her to medical appointments.

Middle circle friends should focus on tasks such as running errands, grocery shopping, yardwork, caring for older kids or teens, and providing transportation.

Outer circle friends, you have three responsibilities: pray, communicate support, and bring food.

2. Make a specific offer.

Once you understand the types of tasks you should offer to help with, here’s one important tip you need to know. Try to avoid saying, “Let me know how I can help.”

I know you’re sincere when you say this to your friend. But she’s hearing it from so many people right now. She wonders who really means it and who just doesn’t know what else to say. And she’s probably too overwhelmed to match general offers of help with her specific needs.

If you want your friend to take you up on your offer, try to be as specific as possible. Here are some examples:

  • I’d love to bring you a meal next week. Would Monday or Wednesday work best?
  • I’ve got free time next Friday afternoon. I’d love to take your kids to the park while you rest, or I could run some errands for you. What would be the most helpful?
  • I’ve noticed that our kids are on the same soccer team this fall. Could I give your son a ride to practice each week?

If she says no at first, don’t be discouraged. She might not be ready to accept help yet. Just keep offering from time to time, and she’ll feel loved by your desire to help.

3. Keep communicating your support.

If your friend is facing a lengthy health battle, you’ll want to communicate support over and over again. It’s best to do this in a way that doesn’t require a response from her. Remember that she’s overwhelmed, tired, and hopefully receiving many messages of support. So as you communicate your love and prayers, don’t be offended if she doesn’t reply.

In fact, you can ease the burden on your friend by letting her know she doesn’t need to respond. Send a text saying, “I’m praying for you today! You don’t need to write me back – just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.”

Does your friend post online updates to a blog or social media site? You could “like” her post (and please do!), but she won’t know if you actually read it. Commenting on her updates is a meaningful way to show support and doesn’t require her to respond.

Finally, let’s all remember that the Lord will care for our friends even when we fall short. We’ll make mistakes or say the wrong thing. There will be needs we can’t meet. But we can place our hope in the One who will faithfully and perfectly meet our friend’s every need. Our Heavenly Father will give us wisdom as we seek to love and serve our friends by His grace.


Helping your friend through cancer - Marissa Henley

About the author:

Marissa Henley is a Christ-follower, cancer survivor, latte addict, and writer. She lives in Northwest Arkansas with her husband, three kids, and one disobedient dog. Her self-published book, Loving Your Friend Through Cancer, is available on Amazon, with an expanded version expected in Spring 2018 from P&R Publishing. // Find Marissa on facebook, instagram, twitter, and on

Featured photo by Jazmin Quaynor.

Affiliate links used.

About Author

Adriel Booker is an author, speaker, and advocate based in Sydney, Australia who believes storytelling, beauty, and the grace of God will change the world. Adriel has become a trusted voice in areas of motherhood and parenting, Christian spirituality, and global women's issues. She's also known for her work with the Love A Mama Collective—serving under-resourced women in developing nations through safe birth initiatives—as well as her years spent as a Bible teacher and leadership coach. Her latest book is Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss and she's made the companion grief journal available for free. Find Adriel across all social media platforms at @adrielbooker or sign up for LoveNotes, Adriel's 'secret posts' that aren't published anywhere else online. ✌️

1 Comment

  • Cancer Treatment
    20 September 2017 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Marissa. Good article.Pancreatic cancer is always called “silent cancer”.Yesterday I’ve read an article about tumor survival rates. According to the article,the general 5-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancers; who did not have their tumors removed is about 16%.So it means you have only 16% to live?


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