Tell her she’s lovely and wonderful and probably perfect. Right now, she might feel isolated, ugly, and defective. Remind her of all the reasons you love her, because odds are she might be thinking the opposite.

Kate Bowler

Kate Bowler

Ask if you can hug her. Human touch is often so nice, but please ask first. Her body might not feel like home right now, and sometimes touch can be harmful. Ask your friend if she feels up for it and then give her some love. 

Offers for help are best when they are: short, specific, immediate.

I’m going to the market. Let me pick up some produce for you!

I love to plan meals. Need any help figuring out what to eat this week?

This might sound weird, but I am great at tidying up. Can I do anything this weekend for you? 

Can I babysit sometime this week?

Do NOT get her a “topical” gift. Seriously, what can a person do with 12 “Beat Cancer” teddy bears or Livestrong bracelets? If the spirit moves you, get her something you know will add a spark of joy to her everyday life: a plant, a comic book, a candle, fun stationary, homemade cookies (but not with raisins– life is hard enough without raisins).

She probably doesn’t care about your “expert research.” Unless you are her oncologist, therapist, or pastor, someone she professionally hires already has that covered. I get that you want to help her feel in control, but odds are she already has more advice than she can categorize.

Respect her desire to share or withhold. Asking, “How are you, really?” means she has to say out loud the very hard truths of the pain she’s experiencing. Now imagine having to relive that to well-meaning people 50 times a day. Instead, just ask, “Do you want to talk about it?” SO EASY AND SO KIND!

Try not to make comparisons between what she is going through to something your cousin, your dog, or your favorite TV character experienced. We get it; most people have unhappy times in life. That doesn’t make her tough days any easier.

She wants your presence more than an uplifting card. People going through tough times hate planning, but love to be loved. Take her out to coffee. Bring her lunch. Go with her to an appointment. Sit on her couch and watch gameshows.

Avoid platitudes: the worst things you can say to someone going through a tough time are phrases that minimize their suffering or tell them to grin and bear it. Refrain from the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” (because what if they, like, actually die?) or the “everything happens for a reason” greeting cards.

Words of comfort don’t have to be perfect! You wouldn’t believe how many people I know never spoke to me again after something bad happened to me because they felt…weird. It’s okay to acknowledge the weirdness.

                        Just wanted to say hello and that I’m thinking of you.

                        I’m sorry you’re going through such a hard time.

                        I admire you and I’m on your team.