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9 Ways to Make a Person with Cancer Smile

by Susan Reif

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1 Tell them repeatedly how awesome they are.
Cancer treatment is hard. Cancer treatment is challenging. Cancer treatment is not fun. Cancer treatment brings with it many physical and mental obstacles. Fighting cancer takes strength, determination, positive thinking, and support (on top of all the medication). Everyone fight­ing cancer is incredible. Amazing. Strong. Awesome. Remind them of that fact every day.

2 Make something.
If you’re crafty or talented in the arts, now is the time to put that to use. From cards to needlepoint to knitting or anything in between, a homemade sentiment will be long remembered.

3 Offer to drive.
Your friend may have a network of drivers lined up to take them to appointments, tests, treatments, and updates, and they may never take you up on the offer. But they will long remember that you did offer. Don’t assume your friend is set for a ride. If they do need a ride, and you can provide it, you will have done a wonderful thing that will never, ever be forgotten.

Author of Article photo

Susan Reif

4 Bring books.
There are tons of books about cancer. And chances are, if your friend is interested in read­ing them, they will have already done so. Instead, pick out books that offer escape – a mystery series, a crossword puzzle book, a book of jokes, biogra­phies, classics. You don’t even have to go out and buy new books. Look at your bookshelf and pull a favor­ite out to loan. Go to a used book sale and snag a few that catch your eye. Be creative.

5 Make a music mix.
Can­cer treatment is tiring; it requires that you rest for long periods of time. It’s nice to have some music to listen to – a special mix for a special person. During my cancer treatment, a dear friend loaned me her iPod, and the selection kept me entertained for months. You may not want to loan out your iPod, but you certainly can make a mix of music for your friend with cancer, especially if music has played a part in your relationship.

6 Give them a call.
Get over being uncomfortable. Pick up the phone and call. Say Hello, I’m think­ing about you. Don’t not call because you are concerned your friend may not want to talk. If they don’t want to talk or they’re not feeling well enough to engage in a phone conversation, they won’t answer the phone. Or they’ll just say so. Don’t be discouraged or take it personally. Know that if you do call, even if your friend can’t talk to you, you have helped make their day easier. Knowing that someone is thinking about you during this difficult journey is very comforting.

7 Send email, eCards, and text messages.
This by far is the easiest and fast­est way to keep in touch. Send a quick message, just to let them know they are on your mind. Do it often. Spread a little kindness with the click of a mouse.

8 Become the best listener ever.
Sometimes your friend will want to talk. If and when they do, be the best, most active listener ever. A dear friend taught me long ago that if you listen long enough, you’ll learn everything you need to know. If you’re looking for ways to help, if you are an engaged listener, you’ll hear what you can do. Sometimes all a person needs is just an ear to listen.

9 Do what you can, but just do something.
Any­thing is better than nothing. Any gesture of kindness, small or large, will be immensely appreciated. We all have busy lives, and we all get wrapped up in our day-to-day activities and obligations, but now is the time to become one of those people who goes out of their way to remember others and extend a hand. Do anything. Do something.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Susan Reif is a writer, speaker, and breast cancer survivor living in Orange County, NY. Her book 39 Things to Make a Cancer Patient Smile is available on

Excerpted with permission from 39 Things to Make a Cancer Patient Smile, by Susan Reif, copyright © 2011 by Susan Reif.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2012.