When One of You Is Diagnosed with a Serious Illness: How to Rally as a Friend Group

Often, our closest friends become like family; they’re there for special occasions, like birthdays, weddings, and career changes, and everyday events, like evening phone calls, morning coffees and routine weekend lunches.

Close friends become a fixture, that’s why learning that someone in your friend circle has a life-threatening condition will undoubtedly send your group into a spin. You’re sure to feel helpless, distraught, and unsure of how you can support them best.

Read on for ways that your circle can rally to help your friend during this difficult time (while considering your own mental well-being, too).

Listen to Them

First, follow their lead. If your friend has asked for some personal time alone, give it to them. It’s okay for them to spend time in solitude to process and reflect. Keep in mind, too, that they’re likely to feel anger, frustration, and sadness.

Check in frequently, but be mindful of respecting their wants and emotional space.

Educate Yourself

This isn’t to say you need to relay pieces of information and unsolicited advice to your friend; it’s more of an opportunity to equip yourself with knowledge of their illness so that you have a core understanding of their diagnosis. That way, you can establish the best ways to be there for them.

Research Support Networks

It may also prove valuable to quietly do some research on the opportunities for professional support in your area.

In time, your friend will likely require palliative care beyond frequent check-ins from friends and family. Professional palliative care is a prescribed support to help manage both physical pain and the emotional weight of a diagnosis. Palliative care will keep your friend safe, comfortable and at their very best during a challenging time.

Do your own research by looking for specialist services in your town or city. For example, if you’re located in the Greater Toronto Area, you can help your friend by looking for palliative care services in Toronto that have excellent reviews — both professional accolades, and online praise from past and current clients. Look for years of experience, and a series of flexible in-home and at-home care services that can meet your friend’s needs.

While doctors can share referrals and recommendations, doing your own research may give your friend more options, and it will make you feel much more helpful.

Create a Loose Schedule

Say there are four of you in a friend circle. Instead of all three reaching out daily to offer help with everyday chores, like collecting groceries or walking pets, or simply calling by with an oven-ready meal, create a tactful support schedule — with input from the friend living with the condition so they can let you know how you can help them best.

A loose schedule keeps everyone on track without being overwhelming or distressing.

Take Time for Yourself

You might feel selfish or guilty wallowing in your feelings — don’t. A close friend living with a serious illness will also affect you emotionally. Take time to process their diagnosis, connecting with a therapist or have candid conversations with your friend group — whatever helps you cope best.

Feeling equipped with healthy mental fortitude will allow you to support your friend to the best of your ability.

The Bottom Line

Every journey is different; how a diagnosis affects one person will affect another differently. By equipping yourself with an education, seeking professional help when necessary, and communicating transparently with your friends, you’re working to foster a supportive network that empowers you to continue being the best friend you can be during a difficult time.