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Tips for Supporting a Friend Who’s Sick

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

Tips for Supporting a Friend Who's SickThere’s a disconnect between how we treat sick people and how they want to be treated, according to Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of the new book How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.

We stay silent. We say stupid things. We go from being sensitive, sensible, kind adults to rambling niceties or making downright rude remarks.

Illness, understandably, makes us nervous.

Fortunately, Pogrebin’s book helps us navigate the muddied waters of illness and mortality. It’s packed with practical tips and valuable insights.

Pogrebin was inspired to write the book after observing the varied reactions from her own friends to her breast cancer diagnosis. Some friends misunderstood her needs and acted awkwardly. Others were supportive and compassionate.

In the book, she shares these personal experiences, along with powerful accounts of people offering support to others. She also shares the words of almost 80 of her fellow patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She interviewed these individuals to find out how they really wanted to be treated.

2 Comments to
Tips for Supporting a Friend Who’s Sick

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  1. Another good post – i’ll share it with friends. at my age, 66, “suddenly” there are more situations like this. A sister in law and a friend are both in the process of dying right now, and fully aware of it.

    I have said things to different people with illness that were off – not thoughtful – and so I would like to emphasize one more thing:

    You want to support your friend. But you’ve already said some stupid thing. Let it go. We all do it at times, even our President. People who are ill did not themselves become saints – they were not perfect before their illness. Mainly, your friend still needs you. Stuff any embarrassment and step up to the plate.

    If you are the kind of person who is reading this you do care. SO stop examining your own feelings, take a deep breath and call or go visit.

  2. This article is very helpful. I made a big mistake with this. A friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer asked me questions because she knew my brother had cancer (and died from it). I should have realized there was something better to say than to answer the questions. I told her how he was affected by the treatment. She was going to receive similar treatment. NOT a good thing to do.

    I had assumed she was in an adult place and wanted the information. Not so much. She was feeling like a scared little kid. After she told me that the things I was sharing scared her and she was already scared, I felt like I was walking on eggshells. Especially when she started asking me more questions that if I answered honestly would not be received well by a scared little kid.

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