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 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 you care and that she does have a support network. Ask her which method she prefers — call, text, email, drop-by? Make sure she knows you don’t expect her to respond at length or at all, and hope she’ll take advantage as she pleases. She calls the shots; you’re just there to provide the reassurance that only someone’s presence, versus “call me anytime,” 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.