Friend's mother has cancer
Originally Published: December 6, 1994 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 23, 2010
The mother of one of my best friends from high school was diagnosed with liver cancer a few months ago. She is quite ill and in a lot of pain. She's been in and out of the hospital lately and things don't look so good. My own father was diagnosed with prostate cancer a year and a half ago, but he is really doing quite well (with medication, treatment, etc.). My friend's mother will probably be dead within six months to a year, so I'm not going through an immediate crisis.
My question is: What things should (and shouldn't) I be saying to, and doing for, my friend? I try so hard to be there for her but I really don't know what she's going through. She is very matter-of-fact about the fact that her mom is going to die. But I'm sure there's something I could be doing, isn't there? I hate feeling like I'm actually making her feel worse! Could you give me some idea of what she might be going through right now and how I could help? Even if it's a method for taking her mind off it occasionally (if that's a good idea).
Just Trying to Help
Dear Just Trying to Help,
It sounds as though your friend is lucky to have you in her life, and that you are already playing a supportive role by being there when she needs you. It may be hard to tell right now exactly what she needs, realizing that every one of us deals with illness and loss in different ways. If she's at the point of it all being "matter-of-fact," she is probably coping in a way that works for her right now.
What you can do is let her know that you're willing to talk with her about anything, at any time, so that when she's ready, she knows she can rely on you. In terms of taking her mind off her mother's illness — ask her. Would she like to go to the movies one night? Or, visit a museum? Maybe go shopping? Or, meet for coffee, etc.? It will all depend on how she's feeling at that moment, whether or not today was a particularly difficult or good day, whether she'd rather not take her mind off her mother's illness, or whether she's at the point where she really would appreciate a break.
The other thing to think about is expressing your own feelings with your friend — telling her how you feel, with respect to your father's illness, her mother's illness, and your day-to-day life. Being real with your feelings will help nurture your friendship and help you each deal with the ups and downs of life.
If you feel overwhelmed, it may be useful to talk to a mental health provider. You could even encourage your friend to do so if and when she's ready. If you are a Columbia student, you can contact Counseling and Psychology Services (CPS) by calling x4-2878.
There is no one right or wrong thing to do when someone's going through a crisis like this. Continue being her friend. If she seems distant at times, it's to be expected. You don't have to force your companionship; just let her know you're around for whatever she needs — for talking, listening, or laughing; or, for a good night out to forget. Knowing that she has a good friend may make all the difference.
To friendship, through the best and worst of times.