Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I have a friend who is a very independent and private person and who has built a stable life for herself after a difficult upbringing. She was recently diagnosed with a likely curable form of breast cancer, and she feels very alone (no family, close friends mainly live elsewhere).

We have one close mutual friend, with whom I have been trying to offer the support she feels she’s missing. I’ve told her to call me anytime. I’ve taken her to one appointment and am scheduled to do so again soon.

But what else can we do? It pains me to see how sad she is about being on her own through so much of this. She was already struggling with depression and has a counselor lined up. I think that my greatest fear is coming off as glib and making her feel alienated. While I have dealt with depression, I have always had a vast support network and have never experienced cancer or another devastating illness myself. I try to be reassuring, but I don’t know how helpful that is.


You can contact her — regularly but not obnoxiously — to show her that you care and that she does have a support network. Ask her which method she prefers — call, text, e-mail, drop-by? Make sure she knows that you don’t expect her to respond at length, or at all, and hope that she will take advantage as she pleases. She calls the shots; you’re just there to provide the reassurance that only someone’s presence, vs. “call me any time,” can provide.

Also, be careful not to treat her as some exotic “other.” I do get it — hard life, introversion, few local friends — but she’s still just a person like any other. Try to see things through her eyes, then follow her lead.

Re: Friend:

I was a loner cancer patient, too. What really touched my heart was receiving cards from people in the mail that simply indicated they were thinking of me. Another thing that helped me was when someone made sure I had real food in my refrigerator after surgery. Not junk food — it may sound comforting, but that really just makes things worse. Cook up a lasagna that can be cut up, frozen and eaten for a week. That, for me, was so wonderful that I don’t even know how to put it in words.


You just did, though — thank you.

Re: Friend:

I had a friend with cancer. Several of her friends organized a book club, and we met once a month at her home. It was a great way to show support without hovering.

Anonymous 2

Stinkin’ brilliant. In this case, it’s an opportunity to widen the friend’s social circle, if she’s up to it. Big “if,” but still.

You did offer your friend the option to cancel/postpone, I assume, and never, ever, ever left her anything to clean up?

Re: Friend:

You might suggest that the friend find a support group for people with cancer. I just attended my first such meeting. No one wants cancer, but it does include admission to a whole new community — a silver lining when one is badly needed.

Anonymous 3

Support group, of course, thanks.

Readers, 3; loneliness, 0. Thanks, all.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at