How to Be a Friend When the Big “C” Word Hits


We’ve all been there. We’ve heard the “C” word over breakfast, at the gym and announced in a Facebook post. 


Someone you know has it or is loving someone who does. 

The word alone can cause us to freeze. We feel the pain and vulnerability of knowing someone who knows someone who has cancer. 

When my husband, Joe, was diagnosed with colon cancer at 28 years old, I was forced to grow up quick. I realized how many times I’d heard the “C” word and simply ignored the situation. Maybe I was afraid I’d upset the person if I brought it up? Perhaps I thought I wasn’t a close enough friend to jump in and help? But mainly, I just didn’t know what to say, and it all felt scary. 

“Let me know how I can help.” Became the cringe-worthy phrase people throw your direction as fast as they run to hide. 

As much as the words were meant to lift my spirits, I felt bogged down by not only my husband’s disease but now the unasked for responsibility of coordinating all of the people who wanted to help. The truth is, I didn’t know what I needed, or where to even begin. 

All I could focus on was getting my husband to chemotherapy appointments and scheduling medications. I was overwhelmed, lost and felt incredibly isolated as our world stopped. 

Then came, Jen. 

Jen was my friend and co-worker when my husband got sick and boldly stepped up the plate. She became my safe place to talk honestly about what we needed, and she’d do the communication and delegation. 

When the “C” word hits. Get yourself a Jen. Be a Jen. 

I was too embarrassed to say what we really needed help with– and that was money. 

We needed to travel for my husband’s treatments, and I was going to be out of work for weeks at a time. I was ashamed and defeated. I didn’t know how we’d make it work. 

Jen rallied the troops to sell #JoeStrong t-shirts, she shared our story and created a GoFundMe account where those co-workers and friends could put their longing to help into dollars and well wishes. Jen coordinated a meal train and even found a website that would deliver fresh, healthy meals because she knew my husband’s appetite was limited and we could only handle so many Doritos casseroles. 

I never would have survived without Jen. She was boots on the ground and just kept “showing up.” 

And that my friends, is the root of what to do when you hear the “C” word. Show up. 

  • Send a card
  • Share a Facebook post
  • Donate your weekly coffee money
  • Offer to pick up kids
  • Drive the family carpool
  • Design a t-shirt
  • Coordinate a walk
  • Hire a cleaning service
  • Gather your office to pitch in for some gift cards
  • Help the family create a memory

Cancer impacts every aspect of a family’s life. They may not always be able to respond or even to say thank you, but I promise you when you show up they notice. If you’re afraid you’ll say the wrong thing, say that.

It’s okay to be scared, we are too.