FROM THE EXPERTS
Former Chief Medical and
Scientific Officer and Executive
Vice President of the American
Cancer Society in Atlanta
Clinical Social Worker at Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in
New York City
Director of Genetic Counseling,
Program in Cancer and Adult
Genetics at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill
ABOUT THE EXPERTS
PHOTO COUR TES Y OF HADLE Y MAYA
PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIANNE O’DANIEL
A good friend has asked me to accompany
her to an appointment with her cancer
doctor. WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW
BEFORE I GO?
HADLEY MAYA: Chances are that your
friend has asked you to come along primarily to serve as an extra set of ears and for
emotional support. However, you might also
play various practical roles, depending on the
nature of the appointment and the needs of
The first thing I’d recommend is to maintain
a curious outlook. That means taking time to
ask your friend questions. Clarify what kind
of appointment you’re attending so you have
a better idea of what to expect. If your friend
primarily wants you there to listen in, ask her
if it would be helpful for you to write things
down during the appointment. Perhaps she
would also like help preparing a list of questions for the doctor ahead of time. Plan to take
a notebook and pen or pencil along, especially
if the appointment will be information-heavy.
Rather than asking your friend open-ended
questions, it often helps to be more specific
about what you might be able to do for her.
However, remember to stay open to whatever
it is she might have to say about her experience and needs.
If her appointment will include chemother-
apy treatment, which can last a few hours, it’s
likely your friend wants you there as an emo-
tional support and a source of distraction. In
that case, ask your friend if there’s anything
she needs or wants you to bring along, such as
snacks, drinks, crossword puzzles, or perhaps
a download of her favorite TV show.
Most likely your friend won’t expect you to
be an expert about her particular cancer. Her
request for you to be there likely has more to
do with your presence. Give her space to talk,
but let her know you’re there whether she feels
like talking or not. Keep yourself open to your
friend’s cues, and be ready to adapt to whatever
it is she needs from you in that moment.
If you don’t have experience in a clinical
setting, keep in mind that you might see things
that you aren’t used to seeing. Depending on
your own history and feelings about illness and
cancer, it might be upsetting or scary for you.
Make sure you’ll have the support you need
before and after that visit.
SUPPOR TING A FRIEND //
Cancer.Net provides a list of ways you
can support a friend with cancer. cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/talking-with-family-and-friends/supporting-friend-who-has-cancer // UVA
Cancer Center offers advice on what to pack for a friend’s chemotherapy
appointment. yourcenter.uvacancercenter.com/bring-chemo-packing-support-cancer-patient // Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
has general tips on how to get the most out of an oncologist appointment.