Vicky's guide on how to be a best friend or family member to someone fighting Cancer!



As one in two people will face cancer at some point in their life, it’s very likely that someone you know, or someone in the future you know, will unfortunately face cancer in some way. Here are a few thoughts on how to best support someone going through it - heavily inspired by my AMAZING friends and family who supported me (and continue to support me) so incredibly well.


1. If in doubt - send something / say something.

I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the amount of text messages, social media messages, and cards I received from close friends and family, as well as from less close people - eg friends’ parents and grandparents, old colleagues, friends I’d lost touch with etc etc. Every single one meant so much to me. I later thanked someone for a postcard they sent, and they said “Oooh was it ok? I wasn’t sure what to send / say”, (it was perfect) and I realised a lot of people have this dilemma. If in doubt - just send something. Sending something’s always a good idea!! Thank you to everyone who did :) I would also add not to read into it whether you get a reply or not. I’m grateful for every single message, but to this day, am confused who I did and didn’t thank / respond to, depending on whether I received the message during a post steroid-related “productive-I-feel-like-Bradley-Cooper-from-Limitless” moment, or a post chemo energy crash!

2. If you’re not sure what to say…

If you’re not sure what to say, even something simple is lovely! E.g. “So sorry to hear you’re going through this - thinking of you and here if you need anything at all.” If you can, I’d avoid using words like “cancer” and “disease” as when you’re first diagnosed, it feels so surreal hearing those words at the hospital, so seeing them written even in the context messages of support: “So sorry to hear - it’s a truly terrible disease” etc can be a bit jarring near the beginning. I’d also be mindful about what questions you ask eg what stage is it? But as per point 1 - don’t overthink it too much and just send the message / write the card. It will be appreciated.


3. Saying “please let me know if you need anything” is lovely. Pre-empting what someone might need and doing it anyway is even better...

I was very lucky to have lots of people offering their support and knowing they were there for me when I needed anything. Some friends and family also did lovely gestures for me without me asking - things which I didn’t even know I needed, but turns out I did! Eg dropping in homemade healthy meals I could keep in the freezer for when tired after chemo; or decorating my front door in a Christmassy way so it was a lovely festive homecoming whenever I came home from appointments, or even helping me sort through parcels and taking my returns to the post office! I didn’t “need” these things per se or know I needed them, but they were a huge help, eg the meals were a godsend as I was trying to be Uber healthy and eat nothing processed (still am!), so it was hugely helpful having a stash of nutritious home prepared things ready to go.


4. Don’t feel guilty about talking about non-cancer things!

When you’re diagnosed, everything to do with cancer is all consuming. It’s all you can think about / talk about. My Mum (Mummy Buckley) was incredibly good at forcing me to think about other things and asking me questions at random to break up my trail of thought, eg asking me what I was going to buy a certain person for Christmas. Yes you need lots of time to talk and process your situation, (which of course my Mum and wider friends and family were also v supportive of and gave me space for) but you do also need some normality. You’re more than just your cancer. One of my friends told me at length about a work drama and then afterwards said “oh no, here’s me moaning about xxxx when you’re going through yyyy” - but I was so invested in the story and it was the longest I hadn’t thought about cancer in ages! Life would be pretty boring if all you talk about is cancer, so give the person an outlet to talk “how are you feeling? Appointments all going as ok as they can?” - But then try to talk as you normally would! It’s also ok to ask directly - is today a day you’d like to talk about it, or would you prefer to talk about random other things? My close friends and family started to call my cancer “Bruno” (inspired by the song “we don’t talk about Bruno” from Disney’s encanto to describe this). Is it a Bruno day, or a non Bruno day? It helped having an informal silly word to signpost whether it was a good day to talk about it and process or a good day to have some escapism and try to forget about it.

5. Don’t retreat after treatment/ chemo stops…

I recently read a stat that 92% of people say the year after cancer treatment is harder than the year of treatment itself - and I can believe it. Transitioning back to work / life post chemotherapy is a real journey. During treatment you’re in such survival mode, afterwards it’s completely normal to have a bit of an identity crisis, delayed trauma from it all, or feel confused by the change of routine and your purpose. “Chemo brain” is also a thing and you can feel quite muddled for a while! There are also likely continued scans and tests and appointments so it’s not suddenly “over”. The emotional rollercoaster and anxiety waiting for results is likely continuing. Offering support post “ringing the chemo bell” is just as meaningful and appreciated as at first diagnosis. I’m blessed my support network continues to be as wonderful as ever two years on from first diagnosis. I typically have 2-5 hospital appointments a month still for ongoing immunotherapy and tests / monitoring.

6. Tread carefully with fertility.. 

New babies are always lovely to celebrate , and post cancer, everyone’s extra looking for reasons to celebrate and find the joy! That said, cancer can affect fertility in various ways, so it’s a good idea to be sensitive around this topic, eg avoid comparing someone’s absence from work due to cancer treatment to going on maternity leave.

7. Language matters

I mentioned how my friends and family call cancer “Bruno”. I also found it helpful to signpost my worst / most terrified moments mentally as going to “deepest darkest peru” (inspired by Paddington!). It helped to describe it to friends and family in this way and have a way to flag when a day or moment was especially tough. It also enabled them to say “all flights to deepest darkest peru are grounded” and try and give me a bit of a lift before I reached full on peru!


Above all - don’t overthink it. Everyone supported me in such amazing ways and none of them had a manual. While I’ve tried to share some of the learnings I’ve had through being a lucky recipient of wonderful support  - ultimately trust your gut and the person you care about will undoubtedly feel your love and support. Thank you again to all my friends and family for their support during diagnosis and beyond! 17 different people came with me to my 18 chemotherapy appointments, in addition to so many others supporting me in different wonderful ways.

Being diagnosed with cancer at 32 was definitely a case of being served some serious lemons, but luckily for me, my husband, friends and family had lemonade ready for me by the bucket load. (…not literally - I no longer drink fizzy drinks ;)