Supporting my friend with cancer

Having a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer can be hard to cope with. Get tips on how you can support them, and find out how we can help you.

How you might feel

When a friend has cancer, you may have many different feelings. Sometimes people do not want to talk about their feelings in case it upsets others. But it is okay to be sad or upset. This is a natural reaction when someone you care about has cancer.

If you are a friend of someone with cancer, we are here for you. Call the Macmillan Support Line on for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 8am - 8pm for information and support.

Supporting your friend

Your friend may have support from their family or a partner. But you can support them too. Talk to your friend and find out how you can help. Perhaps you can do practical things, such as going to appointments with them or spending time together each week.

Talking to your friend

Your friend might need someone to talk to. They may find it easier to talk about certain things with a friend than with their family. Or they may welcome the chance to talk about normal things.

You might talk about what has been happening at work or what you have been doing. You might worry about saying the wrong thing and so avoid certain topics.

Our information about talking with someone who has cancer may help you feel more confident about talking with your friend.

Sharing responsibilities

Your friend may not have a family supporting them, but they may have a big group of very supportive friends. This can sometimes cause issues if friends do not agree on what needs to be done and who will do it. If this happens, it might help for you all to sit down and talk with the person with cancer.

You can talk about the situation and ask them what they want. Even if you have difficulties, you might find you all appreciate each other more and become closer friends.

If you are your friend's main carer

If your friend does not have anyone else to look after them, you may feel responsible for their care. It is not only partners or family members who become carers. If you provide a lot of support to someone with cancer, you may be a carer. This means you could get some support to help you do your caring role.

If your friend starts to need more help, you might feel pressured to do more for them. You do not have to do anything you do not feel comfortable with. Local authorities and health and social care trusts are responsible for arranging services that people need. We have more information about the help that is available for carers.

How you can help with treatment decisions

The person with cancer may want to talk to you about their treatment options. Their doctor may have spoken to them about different options.

Talking to them about these choices can help you understand their thoughts and feelings. But any decisions about treatment are theirs.

Having information may make you or the person with cancer feel more in control. It is important to remember that your information needs might be different from theirs. Some people may want to:

  • know as much as possible about the cancer and treatment
  • only want to know enough to make decisions about treatment and how to cope with it
  • choose not to know very much at all.

It can be useful to talk about how you can manage this. It is best to let the person with cancer find out information when they are ready.

The best source of information about cancer treatment for the person with cancer is their healthcare team. You can also get information:

Many hospitals have information centres. These provide face-to-face information and free booklets and leaflets.

If you disagree with a treatment decision

Sometimes you may not agree with the person about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. If this happens, you may find it useful to talk to the doctor or specialist nurse together. This may help both of you to understand all the options.

The person with cancer has the right to make their own choices. Try to accept this and support their decision. Sometimes this can be hard. It may help to talk about your feelings with someone else. Your GP or the person with cancer’s specialist nurse may be able to arrange for you to see a counsellor.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 January 2019
Next review: 31 July 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

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