Supporting Someone with Cancer While Putting your own Mental Health First

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ve been loving seeing all of the honest conversations about mental health happening all around the internet this month! I’ve seen so many frank conversations about how cancer has changed patients’ mental health (for worse and for better!), and it’s helped me so much in feeling less alone as I share so many of those mental health experiences. One thing that I wish was talked about more, though, is mental health as a supporter of someone with cancer. Taking care of your own mental health should always be a top priority. You can’t pour from an empty cup, right? I wanted to share some ideas for how to put yourself first. 

Schedule in some “me time”

Think about what really helps you recharge. Is it a walk around the neighborhood? A good sweat session at the gym? A relaxing bath? Maybe it’s just laying in your bed doing nothing. Whatever it is, schedule it in. Physically put it on your calendar to ensure that you don’t blow it off – it can be so easy to treat things like this as a “nice to have” if you have the time, but recharging your batteries is incredibly necessary. By scheduling in time for yourself, you ensure that you prioritize it as important as it actually is. 

Talk to Friends

There are probably things that your friend with cancer will say to you that can make you anxious and stressed. Cancer is really anxiety-inducing, as is watching someone you love go through it. As I talked about in my Ring Theory blog, you obviously can’t talk to the patient or their close family about the anxiety you feel, but I bet that there are others in your life (or even in their life!) who share those same struggles and would love to talk about it with someone who gets it. Talk to friends who are farther removed from the patient than you are, and you may be surprised by what a load this takes off of your shoulders!


This one goes along with the last one, and it probably seems obvious, but this is often the first thing to go when life gets busy. It gets seen as a luxury so often, but sometimes you need a non-judgmental person to talk to about all of this! Being a supporter of a cancer patient is HARD, and often there are thoughts you have about cancer or being a supporter that many would think you were a monster for saying. Honestly, we’ve ALL had those thoughts, and they’re 100% valid in the right setting. Talking through them with a therapist can be so helpful to clear your head and help you work through the trauma of your friend or family member having cancer.

Mindfulness or Meditation

I know that this one isn’t for everyone, but hear me out here. I was a skeptic too, but my work recently gifted all of us a year subscription to the Calm app, and I decided to give it a try. Things like a quick body scan or breathing exercises were such a great way for me to get a very quick moment of calm and me time when I have a few free minutes in my day. I’ve found that since starting to use the app and make it a point to be more mindful in my everyday life, my anxiety has gotten so much better, and I feel overall calmer. 

All of these are mere suggestions, and the most important thing is that you prioritize your own mental health in whatever way works for you. It may feel like you’re taking time away from the patient you support by focusing on yourself, but I promise you, we understand, and we want you to be able to keep living your life and taking care of yourself. We understand that cancer affects not just us but everyone around us, and we want everyone to care for their own mental health. So let go of the guilt (easier said than done, I know), and start taking some time to take care of yourself. I promise you and the person you’re supporting will feel better if you do. 

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Sympathy vs. Empathy vs. Compassion: Cancer Support and Where Each Fits

Sympathy, empathy and compassion are likely all words you’ve heard used a lot within the cancer space. They might even be used interchangeably! But the truth is, they’re all different, and they each have their own unique role when supporting the cancer patient in your life. 


Sympathy is defined as pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Sympathy was likely one of the first things you felt when your friend or loved one told you they had cancer, but when it comes to expressing sympathy to the person you’re supporting, it can be complex. The last thing we as cancer patients and survivors want to hear is pity; it feels patronizing and will most likely make them feel worse. While sympathy is not something to be ashamed of feeling, it is an emotion that is best kept to yourself, or at least not shared with the person for whom you feel sympathy. Instead, channel those feelings of sorrow or pity into something more productive like empathy, compassion, and support. 


Empathy is defined as being able to understand and share the feelings of someone else. Where sympathy is seeing your loved one with cancer’s experience from your own perspective, empathy takes it a step further to see their experience by putting yourself in their shoes. When your friend is going through something as serious and scary as cancer, your first reaction may be to relate their current experience to something you’ve gone through in order to relate to their feelings.

If you have never experienced cancer yourself, though, there’s no way you can truly understand what they’re going through. What you can do, though, is listen to what they are telling you and really take it to heart, rather than trying to assume things about what they feel. When supporting the cancer patient in your life, it’s important to show empathy by listening to how they feel rather than assuming how they feel. 


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Compassion takes both empathy and sympathy and takes them a step forward; compassion is the understanding that someone is going through something incredibly difficult and then actively trying to alleviate the struggle they are going through. While sympathy and empathy both have distinct roles within the cancer support experience in their own right, we should all strive to be compassionate in every aspect of our support for our loved ones. There really is no such thing as good support without compassion. 

So what does sympathy, empathy, and compassion look like in practice?

Let’s say your friend had a PET scan a few days ago and they call you to let you know their results weren’t good and the cancer is growing.

The sympathetic response would be to shift your tone and body language to sadness, as that’s what her words make you feel, and tell them that you’re sorry for their PET scan results.

The empathetic response would be to shift your tone and body language to match their mood as you think about what they’re telling you about their feelings. An empathetic response would be to listen to their anger, fear, sadness, and frustration and tell them, “It sounds like this has been a really difficult day for you.”

The compassionate response would be to continue with your empathetic response by sharing their feelings and saying something like, “This has been such a difficult day for you today. Can I grab you dinner from your favorite restaurant to help you relax?”

It is clear that sympathy, empathy, and compassion all play a distinct role in your support of a cancer patient. Now that you know when each comes into play within the support experience, it’s time to start putting them into practice! 

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Ring Theory: The Ins & Outs of Sharing Feelings

When your friend gets diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to know what to say. We all know that cancer affects everyone around the patient, not just the patient. But when you center yourself in conversations about someone else’s cancer, you’re likely to offend them inadvertently. I recently learned about a concept that helps handle crises and I think all supporters of cancer patients should become comfortable with it: Ring Theory.

The Ring Theory

Ring Theory was a concept developed by a psychologist named Susan Silk when she had breast cancer. She found others around her consistently centering themselves in conversations about her cancer, something most of us with cancer have experienced. Through this experience, she developed Ring Theory as a technique to help others avoid making the same mistakes, and it applies to all crises you may encounter, not just cancer.

Start by drawing a small circle in the middle of a page and write the name of the person dealing with the crisis in the center. Then, draw another circle around that circle and write the name(s) of the people closest to the person in the center. Continue drawing concentric circles and writing names inside them as much as necessary, putting closer people toward the center and more distant friends and relatives in the larger outside circles. Now that you have your concentric circles, you have only a few simple rules: 

  1. The person in the center is the only one who can complain about whatever they want, to whoever they want. 
  2. The people in outer circles can complain as well, but only to people in the larger circles. 
  3. If you’re talking to someone whose circle is smaller than yours, you are only allowed to provide help and support. 

In essence, comfort goes inwards, and dumping goes outwards.

Ring Theory

Illustration by Wes Bausmith for the Los Angeles Times

This sounds very simple and something that everyone should know, but when a crisis occurs with someone you love, it’s often difficult to remember that you’re not in the center of it all. We all know that you would never tell a cancer patient that you weren’t prepared for how sick they look, but would you remember not to say that to their significant other, parent, or best friend? Maybe not. Ring Theory helps us put into perspective how the crisis affects everyone and gives you an idea of who you can dump your feelings on versus who you should provide help and support to. 

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Supporter Mistakes: What To Do When You Get It Wrong

We all want to support our friend with cancer in the best way we can, and most of us would shudder at the thought of saying or doing the wrong thing when trying to support them. Inevitably though, because you can’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes, you will get it wrong at some point. Mistakes happen. But fear not – unless you say something particularly hateful, most of these gaffes can be overcome with the proper response. So what do you do when you get it wrong?

Acknowledge mistakes without trying to justify them

This is important. Nothing is more frustrating than someone trying to apologize to you while also justifying their actions. Acknowledge that you were wrong and don’t give any sort of qualifiers to it. 

Give a whole-hearted apology

Make sure that when you apologize, it is clear that it comes from the heart. Don’t just flippantly say sorry, make it clear that you’re committed to correcting whatever you did wrong. 

Don’t dwell on the mistakes

This is the most important part. I had so many times when friends would get it wrong and apologize, but then walked on eggshells around me afterward. Make sure that when you apologize, and they accept your apology, you move on without awkwardness. If you continue walking on eggshells, you’ll probably make them more uncomfortable than the original gaffe did. 

Using these three steps, you will be more prepared to move past any awkwardness that might arise in your friendship. Want a more in-depth conversation about an example of getting it wrong and making it right, check out our podcast episode, What To Do When You Get It Wrong.

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Valentine’s Day and Cancer

Celebrating any holiday with cancer can be an emotional experience for so many reasons, from unexpected hiccups in treatment to grief over your old life to survivorship challenges. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and celebrate in a way that your friend or partner with cancer would enjoy! Here are some ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day (or Galentine’s Day) with the person you’re supporting through cancer.

If you’re long-distance on Valentine’s Day… 

Schedule a time for a virtual Valentine’s Day celebration! Ask them if they’ve been up for eating recently, and if they are, send a favorite food that they’ve been able to eat to their house and have a FaceTime dinner date. If they aren’t up for eating or are their energy is low, maybe a virtual movie night would work better – install the Teleparty extension and pick a fun rom-com, then use the extension to watch it together. You can call or FaceTime them while you both watch so that you can react in real-time while apart. 

If their immune system is low

Many cancer treatments can lower your immune system, so it’s important to be as cautious as they need you to be anytime you’re around them. Sometimes their immune system will be so low that they won’t be able to meet up in person, in which case, I suggest asking whether they would like to celebrate another time or do something virtual (like the suggestions for long distance friends and relationships). Luckily though, through these two years of a global pandemic, we know how to keep things relatively safe if they do want to meet in person despite their weak immune system.

One of my favorite ways to celebrate with friends in a way that is safe for my immune system is a backyard movie night. If you have the space and ability, you can bring out a TV or get a projector and screen, bring out all kinds of cozy blankets and pillows, and either lay in the yard or on outdoor furniture! This is such a fun way to make staying at home feel special, and wearing masks would be easy for this activity. Some other fun ideas are outdoor paint nights (lots of companies now sell the whole kit complete with instructional videos), outdoor games nights with masks, or even an outdoor “spa day” where you do treatments on each other.

If they’re still recovering from treatment… 

This treatment recovery time is a great occasion to prioritize self-care and relaxation! Light a nice scented candle, brew some relaxing herbal tea, and do some treatments on each other. You could do face masks, body scrubs, give each other mani-pedis, massages, or even share a bath with some luxe massage/bath products. 

If they’re in the hospital on Valentine’s Day… 

Every hospital has different things allowed on their different floors, so make sure that whatever you plan for Valentine’s Day is safe for the hospital. For instance, sending flowers is often peoples’ first thought when someone is in the hospital – however, you often aren’t allowed to send cut flowers to the hospital since it can be dangerous for those with weak immune systems. Once you know what they are and aren’t allowed to have, plan something that will make their day special despite the circumstances. Maybe it’s decorating their hospital room or visiting them if they allow visitors. Perhaps it’s sending or delivering a meal they’ve been craving if they’re allowed to have outside food or sending some realistic paper flowers (like these ones on Etsy). Maybe it’s just a FaceTime date or virtual movie night. Whatever it is, make sure that you find a way to make their day special despite the circumstances. 

If they just want to get back to normal… 

If they are in a place in their treatment where it is safe for them to do their normal pre-cancer activities, that might be a great way to boost their spirits. Ban the word cancer for the night (if they’re up for that), and find a fun way to celebrate like you would before cancer. You could try recreating a special day you had together in the past, pick something on their bucket list that is feasible and surprise them with it, or even just cook them a romantic meal.

Hopefully, this gave you some good ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day during a time that might feel anything but celebratory. Remember that Valentines’ and Galentine’s Day are all about showing love and appreciation for the people in your life – so as long as you prioritize making them feel loved, you can’t go wrong!

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The Blood Crisis: What Every Young Adult Should Know

When you Google how to support a friend through cancer, you will find lots of ideas, from running errands to keeping them company through chemo to delivering meals to them. But this month, in honor of National Blood Donor Month, we wanted to bring awareness to a very important but often ignored way to support your friend with cancer and all cancer patients across the country: giving blood. blood crisis

Donor blood is a key asset in the fight against cancer

Cancer patients use more than ¼ of the nation’s blood supply, more than patients with any other disease, and yet only 3% of the US population donates blood according to the Red Cross. Cancer patients need blood for a whole host of reasons, from cancer in the bone marrow that crowds out normal blood cells to chemotherapy that causes anemia to surgery and bone marrow transplants. 

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are in the midst of the worst blood crisis we’ve seen in the past ten years. The Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply, says that they have less than one day’s worth of certain blood types. Since blood supply is so low, it has led to cancer patients being forced to wait until their counts hit dangerously low levels before they can get a blood transfusion. Moreover, less than 10% of the eligible population donates blood on an annual basis, so there was already room for improvement prior to this crisis. This is especially important for young adults. Currently, only 10% of blood donations come from people aged 23-29, and 12% come from people in their 30s despite young adults often being stronger and better candidates for blood donation, and young adults being the most common recipients of donor blood. 

Many myths keep young adults from donating blood

One of the big ones is that you can’t give blood after getting a tattoo or piercing; this is false as long as you got your tattoo or piercing at a state-regulated facility, you can donate blood immediately! If it was at a non-regulated facility, you only need to wait a few months before donating. You can also give blood if you’re an alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana user! It is just advisable that you do not use these substances within a few hours before your donation. Many people also assume that you should not give blood if you have a chronic condition or are taking chronic medication. While some conditions and medications do prevent you from giving blood, the majority do not. Check your eligibility for giving blood here

It’s clear that cancer patients urgently need more people to get out and give blood and to continue making recurring blood donations, especially our fellow adolescent and young adult friends. What better time to donate than National Blood Donor Month? While platelets, O+ and O- blood are in the highest demand, all blood is critically needed, and you can help save lives by giving whatever blood you can. If the cancer patient you’re supporting has a compatible blood type with yours, you can even do what’s called a Direct Donation, where you give blood specifically to be used by that person (though call the blood bank in advance as there may be specific requirements, processing fees, and the blood may go to waste if the patient isn’t able to use it in time). If you don’t have a compatible blood type with them, they will surely still appreciate that you gave blood to help other cancer patients, just as other selfless donors have done for them. 

To find out more and schedule your appointment to give blood, check out blood drives through the Red Cross, or find your local blood bank through AABB (Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies) here.

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Cancer Supporter New Year’s Resolution

I’ll be honest – I was never much of a New Year’s resolution kind of person before cancer. I always felt like I was just setting myself up for failure and that whatever was meant to happen would work itself out. After cancer, though, I’ve felt much more of a desire to be more intentional with my time, and part of that includes setting New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a great opportunity to sit down and think about what you want your next 12 months to look like in all facets of your life. If you’re a supporter of someone with cancer, this is a great opportunity to sit down and think about what you want your support to look like.

If you don’t know where to start with making resolutions, here are some to get you started:

Be intentional with my support

We’re all insanely busy right now. We’re living through political unrest, the worst pandemic in recorded history, a climate crisis, and more, and we’re expected to continue moving on with life as normal. This can put us into survival mode, and things might slip through the cracks, including remembering to support our friends through cancer. Setting a resolution to be intentional with support is a great way to make sure that your support doesn’t fall by the wayside.

One great and easy way to ensure you’re being intentional with your support is to set recurring reminders to check in on your friend and see how their treatment is going so that you never forget to ask. Their answer might be the same every time you reach out to them, but I promise they’ll still appreciate you reaching out and showing an interest in what they’re going through. Another great way to be intentional is to set a weekly time to get a coffee, FaceTime, go for a walk, etc., with your friend. They might have some weeks where it’s not possible for them to get out of bed, but having that time on the calendar regardless is a great way for you to make sure you’re making time for your friend through all of your own craziness in your life. And if your friend is too ill to see you on a given week, you could use that time to help them around the house, run an errand for them, take care of their kids or pets for them, and more! 

Balance my own needs with the needs of my friend

When someone has cancer, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs because you’re trying to show up for your friend. But you can’t be a good supporter if you’re running on empty. One important resolution for the new year is to make sure that you’re balancing your own needs. Whether that looks like ensuring that you schedule in your own self-care and relaxation time, starting therapy, or even just getting outside for fresh air a few times a day, think about what you need in order to feel like you can support your friend without sacrificing your own well-being, and make sure you prioritize time to do that in your schedule.

Be present with my support

It’s easy to make plans with a friend, but it’s harder to be 100% present during those plans. Make a pact with yourself to be as present as possible with your support – put your phone on do not disturb, turn the TV off, and remove the distractions. Also, take your friends’ lead when it comes to social media. Some cancer patients love posting about visits from friends and love it when their friends do the same. Others, though, feel that they’re being used for clout when someone posts about a visit to them. Part of being present is understanding their desires and doing your absolute best to respect those.

Show forgiveness (for yourself and your friend)

Cancer fundamentally changes people and relationships, and there’s often no way around it. Your friend may inadvertently say or do something that offends you, or you may do the same to them. This doesn’t make either of you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean you’ve grown apart. It’s just a sign that you need to learn how to communicate with each other again.

Throughout this process of re-learning how to communicate with each other, empathy and forgiveness will become super important. You’ll need to show empathy for them and what they’re going through, and through that you’ll need to forgive them for saying or doing things that you don’t love as they adjust to this crazy new life they’ve been thrust into. At the same time, you’ll need to be able to forgive yourself. This is your first time dealing with something like this, and there is no handbook for this kind of thing. You will almost certainly get things wrong at some point.

It can sometimes be tempting to wallow in your mistakes – thoughts like “my friend is already suffering, why did I have to make that worse?” can often dominate your mind. But once you’ve owned your mistake and apologized to your friend (for more details on what to do when you get it wrong, check our recent podcast episode), the most important thing is that you forgive yourself. We all get it wrong sometimes, and dwelling on it is not helpful to anyone. 

These are just a few of the many resolutions that a supporter could set for themselves in order to be a better supporter. Hopefully, they give you a good start to set your own supporter resolutions! Have a resolution that you’d like to see added to the list? Let us know!

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What a Stage IV Breast Cancer Patient Wants You To Know About Breast Cancer Awareness Month

You have probably seen a barrage of pink products everywhere you go in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But what does breast cancer awareness actually mean? Is it pink ribbons? Is it knowing your risk of developing breast cancer? Is it awareness of what breast cancer patients actually go through? How do we effectively support the cause? 

As a stage IV cancer patient, a lot of the marketing around Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be difficult to look at. It’s portrayed as pretty and pink, something that you fight through but then overcome. This isn’t the case for many breast cancer patients, especially those of us who are stage IV and rarely see ourselves represented during breast cancer awareness month. For us, Stage IV breast cancer is not curable, and it will eventually be terminal.

What Does it Mean to Have Stage IV Breast Cancer?

When we talk about stage IV breast cancer, we are talking about a cancer that has metastasized from its original location in the breast and spread to other parts of the body (most commonly, the liver, lungs, brain, and bones). Cancer that remains in the breast cannot kill you – breast cancer will only kill you once it becomes stage IV and has spread to other parts of the body. Many of my friends have asked me if stage IV breast cancer is not portrayed much because it is rare. The answer? It’s not rare.

Here are some statistics to put it into perspective:

  • 20-30% of early-stage breast cancer patients will become stage IV at some point in their lives 


  • It is estimated that there are over 168,000 people living with stage IV breast cancer in the US


  • The number of people living with stage IV breast cancer is expected to increase by almost 50% by 2030


  • Only 28% of people with stage IV breast cancer live more than 5 years past their diagnosis


  • Only 2-5% of breast cancer funding goes toward stage IV breast cancer


These statistics are sobering, and they can often make us feel helpless.

Here are some actionable things that you can do to support the breast cancer cause this Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

Know your own risk

Awareness starts with you, so the most important thing you can do this Breast Cancer Awareness Month is understand your own risk of breast cancer. Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family? Do you have dense breasts? Do you live an active lifestyle and eat healthy? Do you drink alcohol? All of these things and more play into your breast cancer risk. Bright Pink has created this excellent risk assessment tool in order to assess your own breast cancer risk and be more informed about your health. 

Commit to performing your monthly breast self-exams

Breast self- exams are an incredibly easy, free, and effective tool to learn your own body and catch breast cancer early. But many women don’t regularly perform their breast self-exams. We often have a feeling of “I’m too young” or “it won’t happen to me,” but I’m here to tell you that I had this same mentality, and I was diagnosed at age 27 with stage IV breast cancer. It can happen to anyone at any age, and it’s important to stay on top of your health screenings, especially since you can do it for free at home.

If you’ve never done a breast self-exam before and need a little guidance, check out the free Know Your Lemons Breast Check app. This app doubles as a period tracker and lets you know the best time in your cycle to check your breasts, as well as guiding you through the self-check process and helping you recognize all the symptoms you should keep an eye on.

Support organizations that fund research

Ask someone diagnosed with breast cancer what their most and least favorite breast cancer charities are, and you might be surprised by the answer. Some of the most popular nonprofits in the breast cancer space are actually really disliked by many breast cancer patients for putting profits before patients. When you choose to support a breast cancer charity (or any charity, really), do some research to find out whether they are liked within the community and actually support the cause they say they do.

As a stage IV patient, I want to stress how important research is. Our cancer will eventually outsmart our treatments, forcing us to move on to the next treatment, and so on, and many people do run out of treatments. I currently have a friend in hospice currently because she has no more treatment options left, even though she has much more fight left in her. Research is the only way to find more treatments and extend our lives, so I highly recommend supporting organizations that fund stage IV breast cancer research. My personal favorite charity for stage IV breast cancer is Metavivor

What is Breast Cancer Awareness “pinkwashing” and what can you do to prevent it?

Every Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a tidal wave of pink merchandise hits stores with everything from curling irons to bagels to jewelry purporting to support the breast cancer cause. However, many of these products do nothing for the cause beyond slapping a pink ribbon on the packaging. This is what we in the breast cancer community call “pinkwashing”, or — basically exploiting the breast cancer cause for profit or PR purposes.

This is hurtful to many breast cancer patients as we are consistently seeing our trauma being used to as a way increase sales and not to support those that are suffering and dying within the breast cancer community. If you see an item that claims to benefit breast cancer, ask what organization benefits, how much is being donated, and where the funds are going. If you are not satisfied with the answer, don’t buy the product, and call the company out.

Check in on your breast cancer friends this month

As I mentioned in my previous point, seeing the tidal wave of pink can be really triggering for many of us in the breast cancer community. We’re constantly seeing our trauma plastered over every store, billboard, and city bus we see, and it can be emotionally draining. If you have a friend with breast cancer in your life, or even a breast cancer survivor, check in on them and see how they’re doing. They might need a listening ear, a safe space to vent, or a distraction from all the pink that comes in October and you can do a world of good by supporting them through that. 

The bottom line is that it is important to understand what this month is really all about – it’s not pretty and pink, it’s a deadly reality for many. Seek to understand the true goal of the awareness month, and find ways you can make real change for those in the community that need your support.

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Staying Connected Even When COVID and Cancer Keep You Apart

COVID and Cancer—The Challenges

When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s usually a time when everyone you’ve ever spoken to comes out of the woodwork to support you. MealTrains are started, flowers are sent, donations are given in your honor. But for those of us diagnosed or going through treatment during COVID, that support looks a little different.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in September of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. I remember when I was first diagnosed, all I wanted was a hug from my best friends. Because of COVID though, I was forced to only see them outdoors, from a distance, with masks on. I was so grateful for their support, but I always wished that we could safely be close to each other. 

When I started treatment, it became even more difficult to spend time with friends. There were many times where my blood work would come back showing that my immune system was dangerously low, and that I shouldn’t be around others at all. Cancer is already isolating, but when you add COVID on to that, it can become even more isolating to not be able to see others in person.

With the surge of the delta variant in the US, these COVID precautions have become important for cancer patients again despite vaccinations. If you are trying to support your friend through cancer during COVID, here are some suggestions for safe things you can do:

covid and cancer

Plan Something Virtual

Some of my favorite times I spent with my friends while COVID kept us physically apart were the virtual activities we planned. I love games and have a very competitive streak, so we did a lot of virtual trivia and virtual escape rooms. It was always a fantastic time “seeing” my friends on the screen and playing something together like we would if we were able to be in person. These are just some ideas that I have tried, but the sky is the limit on virtual activities!

If your friend is into crafting, why not do a craft night together on Zoom? If they love to cook and still have an appetite, try a virtual cooking class through Airbnb’s virtual experiences! It doesn’t matter what you do, just knowing you’re thinking of them and are setting time aside to be with them will surely brighten their spirits. If you’re interested in some of the virtual activities I tried, here are my recommendations: for virtual trivia, check out Sporcle as they run live virtual trivia most days, often with fun themes, and it’s always a great time. For virtual escape rooms, The Escape Game has a variety of great options. 

covid and cancer

Outdoor Socially-Distant Activities

When cases were low in my area, and my blood counts cooperated, I loved spending time outdoors and socially distanced with my friends. We got really creative with how we spent time outside, from carrying a TV outdoors and having cozy movie nights under the stars (with masks on and our chairs spread out) to outdoor tea parties where we each sat at different tables and wore masks when we weren’t eating or drinking. This was about as close to a normal friend hang out as I could get, so I cherished this time so much and appreciated my friends for being willing to sit outside bundled up in blankets just to spend time with me.

FaceTime Them While They Get Treatment

Many cancer centers still aren’t allowing patients to bring support people in with them for chemo infusions. This can lead to AYAs feeling especially lonely – I know when I’m at the cancer center, I’m always the youngest one there by at least 20 years and can often feel isolated because of it. Talk to your friend about their treatment schedule, and ask whether they would like to chat while receiving chemo. You can FaceTime them, call them, or even just text (I love when people send funny memes while I’m getting treatment).

Knowing you’ve set aside time to be there for them, even though you can’t physically be there, can help with the isolation of being there alone. I have one cancer friend who always gets chemo in a chair by a window. Her friends drop by that window with signs cheering her on, or even just sit outside the window and chat on the phone with her so that it’s almost like they’re hanging out in person. Depending on the setup at your friend’s cancer center, this could also be an option! 

Help Them Out with Chores from Afar

Your friend might be too tired to grocery shop, cook dinner, pick up prescriptions, or even walk their dog. These are all things that you can help them with while still staying socially distanced! You can drop food, prescriptions, or their favorite takeout/a home-cooked meal on their porch, and if they’re up for a visit when you drop things off, you can stand outside and distanced while wearing a mask. If they need help with a pet, you could pick the pet up from their yard or other outdoor area and walk it while they rest. While being indoors with your friend might not be an option right now, you can still support them from afar if you talk to them about their needs. 

Use the b-there Tool to Plan Support

Most of the suggestions I have listed here for supporting your friend from afar require that friend to be feeling well enough to spend time with you. The b-there tool is a great way to understand your friend’s needs and limitations, and using the information they share within the tool, you’ll be able to plan your support accordingly. In addition to coordinating activities, it also lets you know how they want to connect and what they are in the mood to do. Flexibility is key. Remember that they might wake up one day and not feel up to something you had planned that day. While it might be disappointing or even hurtful, try to remember that it’s not personal. 

The Bottom Line

Don’t let the pandemic restrictions keep you from spending time with your friends. You may not be able to do something every day, but by allowing yourself to get creative and think outside the box, you will be amazed at how many ways you can continue to enjoy each other and have fun doing something together…even if it is more than six feet apart.

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Cancer Humor: Coping Through Laughter

I’ll never forget the first time I told a cancer joke around people who haven’t experienced cancer firsthand. I was chatting with friends about the COVID vaccines in late 2020, just before they were approved. I had said that I was excited to be able to get the vaccine early since I’m immune-compromised from my cancer treatment, and a friend asked me if I was scared to be one of the first to get a vaccine that was so new. “What’s it going to do?” I replied, “Give me incurable cancer? Oh, wait…”

I thought this was funny, but when I looked at the other little squares on Zoom staring back at me, wide-eyed with jaws dropped, I realized this joke didn’t land with any of the people I was talking to. It was in that moment that I realized the dark sense of humor that came with my cancer diagnosis might not be appreciated outside of the cancer community.

Impact of Cancer Humor

Cancer jokes remain taboo in our society, and that’s a real shame. The world we’re thrust into when we are diagnosed with cancer is incredibly dark, and it can be hard to fight that darkness as it tries to consume us. One important coping mechanism for cancer patients is joking about what we’re going through to make it feel less dark. In fact, the impact of humor during cancer treatment has been studied in a variety of scientific studies, and it has been proven to lessen anxiety and discomfort, have a positive effect on the patient’s immune system, and improve pain thresholds.

When the people around us show us that humor surrounding cancer makes them uncomfortable, though, it can make us feel more lonely and isolated, an already overwhelming emotion we often feel during and after treatment. One of the first things you can do to support your friend with cancer is learn about the landscape of this new world that they’ve been thrust into, and try your best to understand what they’re now dealing with while keeping in mind that you will never truly get it unless you experience it firsthand. Learning about this cancer world can help them not feel so alone and take the pressure off of them to explain every new medical term that is important for their treatment. 

Familiarize Yourself with Cancer Humor

As you’re learning about the cancer landscape, I suggest also familiarizing yourself with cancer humor. Check out which cancer accounts your friend is following on Instagram and Twitter – are any of them meme accounts? If so, it might be helpful to follow these accounts yourself to get familiar with the things that your friend might find funny during cancer treatment. While nobody is expecting you to be comfortable telling cancer jokes (and, in fact, I would suggest following your friends’ lead when it comes to cancer humor), seeing more humor surrounding cancer in your feeds can help normalize it for you. 

Not sure where to start when it comes to finding cancer humor? My personal favorite cancer meme account is @thecancerpatient on Instagram. It’s an account run by an anonymous nurse and 2x cancer survivor, and it’s incredible how close to home many of those memes hit for me. As a Schitt’s Creek superfan with a visceral hatred for the phrase “you don’t look sick,” this is my favorite cancer meme I’ve ever seen:

Support Your Friend with Humor

For some supporters, and even some patients themselves, humor surrounding cancer can simply be too much. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still support your friend with humor and help your friend get all the great benefits of humor during cancer treatment! Try and plan some get-togethers with your friend surrounding things that will make them laugh when they feel up for it. One of my favorite activities to do with friends that always brings on lots of laughs for all of us is virtual trivia nights. It’s a COVID-safe activity that I could do when I didn’t feel like leaving the house, and there are plenty of places that put on themed virtual trivia. We would often do trivia about topics such as Schitt’s Creek, Disney, and even 90-Day Fiancé, which were always especially entertaining.

But it doesn’t have to be as involved as a trivia night – that might be something your friend isn’t feeling up for if they’re experiencing chemo brain or fatigue. If they’re feeling up to having a visitor, though, you could do something as simple as watching a funny movie or bingeing a funny show together. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that humor, whether about cancer or just in general, can feel like a huge sigh of relief for someone going through cancer treatment. While what your friend is going through is very serious, that doesn’t mean that all of your interactions with them need to be. They are still the friend they were before cancer, and they want to laugh with you the way they did before cancer. Help them feel that sigh of relief by bringing humor into your interactions with them!

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