My friend’s dad has cancer and I don’t know what to say to her

​In friendships there are times when one person has to support the other. There are times when your friend can’t always be the strong one for you. That’s what friendship is – riding the rough with the smooth – and hanging on in there even when it feels like really hard work.

This is a tough situation, so we’ve put together three top tips to help you out.

1. Be normal

  • Ask her how she is feeling.
  • Ask her to do the stuff that you usually do together – but be prepared that she may not feel like it.
  • Ask what she would like to do instead.
  • Include her in your usual plans and adventures.
  • If she feels like talking – listen to her – and remember that she isn’t expecting you to make it all better or to be able to make her feel better – she just wants to share with you how it is right now.
  • If she doesn’t feel like talking – do other stuff instead, the stuff you would usually do – listen to music, watch stuff on YouTube, chat, laugh, go out, try on all the clothes you would buy if you won the lottery (and then put them back again because you haven’t).
  • Doing ‘normal’ things with you will really help her. Invite her to tea – or to sleep over – and be ok if she says she wants to stay at home with her folks.

2. Be prepared

Something in your friend’s life has changed – and she may change too.

​She may feel sad, or quiet, or worried, or angry – and she may seem different to the friend you have known for a long time, and that is because she feels like her world has been thrown upside-down.

She is scared about what might happen – and she is not able to control what might happen – and that might make her feel very worried or anxious. She might become panicky or depressed. She might find herself unable to sleep or having horrible nightmares that could make her feel tired, crabby and unsettled. The things that used to be important to her might not feel like a big deal anymore. She might be moody and cross with you, even though it isn’t your fault (and she knows it isn’t your fault – it’s just that there is no-one else she can be moody and cross with right now)!

Some days though, she will feel fine. And it will feel like your old friend is back and she will join in and laugh and you will wonder why she was so different the day before. That is how it goes when a parent or close family member has a life-threatening illness. Some days feel do-able; other days really don’t.

She needs you to be ready for her on the good days, and patient with her on the difficult days. She needs to be able to drop out of arrangements at the last minute, or to be able to call on you for a chat unexpectedly. She needs to be closer to her family and also have time away from them. She needs her friends – but in different ways to how she needed them before.

3. Hang in there

​In friendships there are times when one person has to support the other. There are times when your friend can’t always be the strong one for you. There are times when they might behave in ways that you don’t really understand, and you might feel let down by them. That’s what friendship is – riding the rough with the smooth – and hanging on in there even when it feels like really hard work.

When your friend’s dad has cancer (or when any member of their family has a life-threatening illness), this is one of those times.

Maybe the best thing you can say to your friend is: “I am your friend, whatever happens I’ll be here, let me know what the best thing is I can do for you.”

Finally, your friend loves having you as her friend, but she might also like to know that she isn’t the only one with an ill parent. So you could tell her about Hope Support Services where she can find confidential one to one support and a private community of other young people who are also experiencing a family health crisis.

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