The Healing Power of Friendship: Supporting Kids with Cancer

Friendship is a gift that brings comfort, happiness, joy, companionship, and support. But for children battling cancer, friendship means even more. Having friends to confide in and count on – ones who show empathy and understanding – is incredibly important, as it makes a profound difference to the child’s overall healing journey.

Communicating with friends is crucial when battling childhood cancer. Friendships provide companionship and emotional support, which can alleviate feelings of worry and loneliness… common feelings in kids with cancer. Talking to old friends with whom they can laugh or confide in – and meeting new friends at treatment or in the hospital with whom they can connect or find common ground – can be both beneficial and empowering. Positive friendships build memories and experiences that allow a child to feel a sense of normalcy.

Encourage Lasting Friendships

Opening up to friends about a new diagnosis or what they might be going through can be a daunting task for a child. Parents or caregivers can help start those conversations and encourage continued friendships by:

  • Encouraging them to stay connected: Kids often use social media to stay connected through outlets such as video games, Snapchat, and texting. Encouraging a child to use available resources such as these to keep in touch with friends during treatments can be helpful.
  • Making time when feeling good: Treatment can take a toll on the body and make kids feel unwell. Take advantage of good days when the child feels healthy by asking a friend to play outside – or just use that time to make a phone call to connect.
  • Asking for help: When a friend knows you are facing hard times, they want to help but might not be sure how. Be specific in letting them know what they can do to make your child feel included, loved, and seen.

JD’s Story

Sharing the news of the diagnosis can be challenging and feel overwhelming – you and your child need to decide together when the right time might be. Jonathan, who goes by “JD”, is a 13-year-old battling leukemia. He struggled with the idea of sharing the news of his diagnosis with his friends. JD’s mom shared, “At first JD was scared to say anything about the leukemia and worried how he would be treated, but everyone was super great to him and supported him.”

JD has relied heavily on his friendships during treatments. Knowing how to support someone going through childhood cancer can be challenging, but JD’s friends have taken the task to heart. They send regular messages to ask him how he is doing, and even send him his favorite snacks during inpatient stays. When JD is at the hospital, his friends play online video games together, helping him feel connected. When he is at home, his friends stop by to visit. One day, the community in which JD lives even went so far as to wear green in his honor, showing him that he is loved and cared for.

The National Children’s Cancer Society provides free publications to educate friends about cancer and encourage them to stay connected during treatment. Sammie’s New Mask is a coloring book for children in grades K-3. Another resource, An Educational Guide for Friends of Teens with Cancer, is helpful for older children.