How to help a friend with cancer: six ways to make her smile

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Image showing how to help a friend with ovarian cancer by taking them shopping. A fashionable portrait of two cheerful women walking in the city in winter.

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How to help a friend with cancer

If you want to know how to help a friend with cancer read these useful tips from someone who helped her friend through ovarian cancer.

“I have ovarian cancer.” Four tiny life-changing words that no one wants to hear; especially not from their best friend over a Sunday morning champagne brunch. Yet, there I was, sipping a Moët & Chandon, listening to those horrible words from my bestie, Sam. My world started to spin violently around me. This is horrible. I didn’t know how to help a friend with ovarian cancer. I don’t know what to do.

Together, we had conquered bullies, bad relationships, and taco nights that went awry, so why did I feel like the whole world came down at my feet when she uttered those four words? And how did this immediately become all about me and my feelings?

At that moment, I decided to gather up my strength and do whatever I could to help her respond to her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, for better or for worse. I promised myself that this would be about her, not me, even though I was terrified of losing my bestie. If you ever are faced with your bestie having a life-changing cancer diagnosis, I hope you can find my experience to battle back ovarian cancer with your best friend.

Six ways to help a friend with cancer

1. Embrace the absurdity of life

When ovarian cancer rears its ugly head, nothing in the world makes sense for a while after diagnosis. At this early stage, we found it best to embrace the absurdity of life by watching silly movies, plays, and music performances together. Our favorites were classic movies from our childhood, especially Groundhog Day, Encino Man, and Happy Gilmore. We would silly songs in the car, watch funny videos online, and strive to laugh and embrace the way life brings the absurd in beautiful ways.

2. Create beautiful mandalas together

To better understand the beauty in the impermanence of life, we would create mandalas using temporary materials. This activity can help you, and your best friend see the good in the world when your perception takes a dreary-turn. Wherever we would go, we would create mandalas using henna, sand, beads or other items that easily wash or sweep away afterward. When my bestie had no energy or patience for this activity, I acted as the creator of our shared mandalas to help highlight the beauty we could create in the world.

3. Assemble cancer care packages for each stage of treatment

There is no doubt about it: ovarian cancer treatment sucks. Whether it saps your bestie’s energy or brings waves of nausea, every stage of the treatment process brings its own challenges. If you really want to learn how to help a friend with ovarian cancer you’re going to need to get your head around each stage of treatment. Conspire with your friends to create a care package for each appointment.

When I visited after her hysterectomy, Sam loved the uterus plushie I brought to bring her comfort and a laugh. To beat nausea that plagued her during chemo, I put together a basket of all things ginger along with a soft blanket to snuggle during each treatment. The care package items helped alleviate the worst side effects and provided some of my bestie’s favorite things in life.

4. Utilize apps to create fun conversations

If want to know how to help a friend with ovarian cancer stop talking about ovarian cancer! As you have probably realized by now during cancer treatment, cancer tends to remain the elephant in the room, creating a black cloud to damper all fun conversations. We pushed the elephant back to the zoo and resumed our fun conversations by utilizing the power of smartphone apps. Our favorite was Snapchat with its fun filters and quirky elements that made even the most mundane conversations a blast. When I could not make it to the hospital for Sam’s treatments, I stayed by her side using this platform. We found that when you utilize smartphone apps to keep the conversations going, you can offer support while staying lighthearted through the toughest of ordeals. And when Sam wanted to talk about her ovarian cancer, I was there for her.

5. Offer genuine positive compliments

As cancer treatments threaten to suck the life out of your best friend, self-esteem tends to take a dive as well. Before most people can stop them, statements like, “Boy, you look awful,” slip through the lips, reinforcing this dip in confidence for the long term. I made this mistake only once, as I saw the hurt in Sam’s eyes as I uttered the last syllable. At that moment, I made it my mission to renew my bestie’s sense of self-worth by providing truly genuine, positive compliments whenever possible. I knew I was the best person to do this because I can clearly see how beautiful and amazing my best friend is, in and out. For my Sam, I always complimented the mischievous twinkle in her eyes and her great laugh, as I wanted her to embrace those pieces of herself while braving her cancer treatments.

6. Open your Ears (and close your lips)

When I was told my best friend has ovarian cancer I was uncomfortable. I nervously overshadowed her announcement with a running stream of support commentary. I just desperately wanted to be there for her but did not know-how. I realized later that, at that moment, I needed to close my lips and open my ears to share her burden in a meaningful way. By understanding her need for a listening ear, I was able to become a source of calm support throughout the treatment process.

As Sam found the most important battle of her life, I learned so much about being a truly great friend during the most terrible times. I learned how to support a friend who has ovarian cancer.

My learning process was fraught with pitfalls, especially as I did not know how to proceed at first. I hope that by sharing my experience, you can offer your bestie immense support from day one.

Article by
Marnie Bii

Marnie Bii is a content marketing strategist, growth hacker, copywriter, editor, gamer, Keto nerd, and enthusiast of RC cars and everything automotive. She lives in Seattle, Washington.


Shopping with your friend for cancer care packages can be a fun way to get out and have some quality time together.