What To Write to Someone With Cancer

The shock of a good friend telling you that they have cancer can leave you speechless. 

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when someone you care about shares this kind of news.


Once your mind had cleared, and you’ve had time to think about the situation, you may realize there are important things that do want to say to your friend.


An excellent way to let your friend know you care is to write them a letter. Not an email or instant message, but a good, old-fashioned, handwritten letter.

 


The tips below will help you put your thoughts into meaningful words that will be treasured by your friend or loved one.

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Taking the time to put your thoughts and words on paper allows you to organize your feelings and share them openly and honestly.  It gives you time to consider what to say and how to say it to best support your friend or loved one.

Let’s face it, in an era of all digital communication, receiving a letter in the mail is a special treat for most people.  Your friend will appreciate your effort and have a tangible reminder of how much you care. They can read your letter anytime they need encouragement and support. 

Writing a letter to someone with cancer gives them a special gift.  Follow this guide to shape a letter that speaks from your heart and offers comfort to your friend.


 

Write Down Your Ideas

Before you write the actual letter, make yourself some notes about what you’d like to say.  Start by writing down how you feel and what you think your friend would love to hear. This could include how sad you are, your wishes and hopes for your friend, and ways you may be able to help them.  

Note a special moment or occasion between the two of you; a time that brought you together or a situation where you supported each other. Add a funny story where you and your friend shared a laugh. Give some thought to what you’ve done in the past to show your friend that you care and write that down too.

 

Be Positive

Now go back through your notes and look for things you wrote that were positive.  Think about the ones you have already and what you could add. Consider your relationship with your friend.  Does your friendship bring you joy, comfort, and support? Do you laugh together a lot or have zany adventures together?  The letter you write should remind your friend how important they are to you and how much you value their friendship. Writing about their special place in your life lets them know they are significant to you.  Reading about how much you value them as your friend will make them feel cared for and loved.

Make notes about ways you can positively affect their life now.  The simplest way you can offer to help is to let them know that you are there for whatever they need.  Offer to be there if they want to talk, need help, or want to do something fun for a few hours. You can also offer to help with errands, meal preparation, or rides to appointments.  Write down your ideas for things you are honestly available to provide.

It may be hard to be positive about the future.  Your friend is facing a difficult journey. If you already have upcoming plans, write about your hope that you can still get together.  Allow them to decide if they can attend. Don’t push. Let them know you support the decision they make. 

 

What Not to Say

Go through your notes again and cross out things that don’t show support.  Telling your friend about everyone you know who had cancer isn’t helpful. Your friend’s journey is unique, and comparing them to others isn’t fair.  If you’ve never had cancer, don’t say you understand how they feel. Instead, offer to listen if they want to share their feelings. Don’t fill your letter with questions about their diagnosis or treatments.  Let them share that with you if and when they want. As their friend, you can be there to discuss their concerns about cancer, but don’t assume you know what’s upsetting them or what choices they face. 

Remove any notes that judge your friend or try to force them to do what you think is best.  Even if you’d like to know, asking if they were taking good care of themselves before their diagnosis or if they have family members with cancer, is a form of blame.  Don’t demand they see a cancer doctor you know or try a treatment you think will work. You ask them if they would like suggestions of medical providers or services, or want help researching their options, and be prepared to understand if they say no.

 

Putting your Notes Together

By now, you should have a list of thoughts, stories, and ways you can help your friend.  Start your letter with their name or “My dear friend.” Referring to them individually or as someone you care about makes them the focus. 

Briefly, explain your feelings and how they relate to your friendship.  An opening like “I’m glad you told me about your diagnosis. My heart goes out to you,” or “You are a dear friend, and I’m here for you,” shows how deeply you care.  This is a good place in your letter to add a memory you have together or remind them of what makes you friends.

Let your friend know you are concerned and willing to help.  Offer to visit or call if they’d like to talk. Suggest things you can do to make their lives easier or ask what they need.  Write your letter with them in mind. Focusing on their wants and needs offers compassion and support.

Close your letter by repeating your willingness to help in any way you can.  Let them know you will support them throughout their journey. Stating that you’ll be there when they need you shows you are a true friend.

A nice touch is to write your letter on stationery that reflects your friendship or the type of person your friend is.  If they like nature, look for stationery with flowers or outdoor scenes. If you both enjoy arts and crafts or eating out, find a paper that has graphics related to your shared interests.  Avoid black or somber dark colors and stationery that looks too business-like. Use a pen that writes well and makes your handwriting easy to read. Unless your friend enjoys bright splashes of colors, don’t use more than one color ink.  You don’t want the look of the letter to distract from your message.

 

Sending Your Letter

Once you’ve written everything down, read your letter out loud.  Look for spelling errors or misused words. You don’t want to create confusion because your friend can’t understand what you wrote.  Use a closing like “Love,” “Always,” or “You’re in my thoughts,” and sign your name. Put your letter in a matching envelope and drop it in the mailbox.

 

Taking the time to write a letter to a friend with cancer is a wonderful way to show that you care.  Following these steps will help you write a letter that expresses your feelings and shows support.

About the Author

When my best friend was diagnosed with Cancer, I wanted to give her a care package to let her know I was thinking of her. I was just guessing at what to include and I learned a lot about what can be both useful and meaningful to someone walking their cancer journey. My own frustration led me to start Help Them Fight to create a resource for others going through the same situation.