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cancer and your friends


Young people often say one of the hardest things about being diagnosed with cancer is telling other people, especially their friends. They might be as important to you as your family and not knowing how they are going to react can be scary.

dealing with awkward comments

There are going to be times when people’s reactions will leave you know knowing whether to laugh or cry. Whether it's telling you endless stories about their dog who had cancer, the neighbour who had a miracle cure or just saying “I know how you feel” (when you’re pretty sure they don’t), friends are sometimes going to miss the mark.


Your friends could also try to act as if everything is totally normal, but hearing about a tough maths test, a bad hair day or their latest crush is going to seem incredibly unimportant compared to what you’re going through. The thing to remember is that friends are trying to be helpful, but often don’t know what to say, or are worried about saying the wrong thing.

how you can help your friends

If you feel you have the energy to help your friends understand how you feel and what you need, this can really help them to support you. By listening to them, you can often find out if they’re scared, worried they might upset you by talking about things you are missing out on, or even stressed that they could give you an infection.


Because this is a common issue for young people facing cancer (it’s not just you!), there’s plenty of information you can give your friends that will help them better understand what you're going through and how to be supportive. The Redkite support team can help you find resources that will be useful.


It’s also important to be honest with them. Most of the time, friends are looking for you to take the lead and let them know how to act, so gently let them know if what they've said upsets you, and what would have been more helpful.

the missing-in-action friend

Sadly, no matter what you say or do, a few friends may just go MIA. Some start supportive but drop off along the way, and others you may not have seen at all, which can be really disappointing.


Your friends may have stepped away for a whole range of reasons. They could be worried they’ll say the wrong thing or that they won’t handle you looking different. Some people can’t cope with hospitals or anything medical. Others have had other experiences with cancer and it could remind them too much of that. Even without cancer, people and relationships change as well.


If you want to talk to someone about coming to terms with a change in a friendship, don’t hesitate to contact the Redkite support team.

new and upgraded friends

Cancer can bring new friends or bring you closer to your current friends. You might also meet other young people who have similar experiences to you, either at the hospital or at a support group like those run by CanTeen. Some very strong bonds can be formed through your shared knowledge and experiences.

maintaining your friendships

If you’re feeling sick or isolated due to your treatment, you might be worried about keeping up with your friends. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Try to be honest and open with them if you can and lean on them when you need to
  • Warn them you may be snappy or angry at times and ask them to forgive you if needed
  • Ask them to keep inviting you to things, even though it may be a while before you can go
  • Give them suggestions of how they can help you, like bringing in decent food to hospital, giving you films to watch, or walking your dog
  • Encourage them to ask questions, but don’t forget you choose how much you want to answer or share
  • Remember that while their issues may seem trivial to you now, to them they are real
  • Keep them up to date by blogging of your experiences – check out some examples on the Stupid Cancer website
Last updated September 2015.