Fighting Cancer When You Don’t Have Cancer: 3 Tips for Comforting Cancer Patients

An old friend called this week, asking if I had any advice regarding how to help a 19-year old boy who is terminally ill with cancer. The question did not shock me. As a cancer survivor myself, I am a member of a club no one wishes to join, but a club that comes with the privilege of entrance into the most intimate aspect of life: sickness and mortality. Over the years, I have listened to countless people share the turmoil they experience as either they, or their loved one, battles this life-threatening disease. On multiple occasions, I visited a hospital room that was occupied by a cancer-fighting compatriot one day, and the next day was empty. I have been in the world of cancer too long to be shocked by the question posed by my friend; however, I will always be deeply saddened when cancer strikes, and cannot wait for the day when a cure is found.

How do you comfort someone facing cancer? I realized there are far too many people asking this question for me to remain silent. The following 3 tips are simply my own perspective – what I found helpful personally, and how I reached out to others. I hope it alleviates some of your anxiety, as you or a loved one wonders how to be there for someone who is battling cancer.

  1. Presence

Simply put: the best way to be there is to be there. There are times in every cancer


Three days after diagnosis, and two days post-op, all I needed was family to be there with me. (Photocred: Craig Friesen)

patient’s life when you do not want to be seen, particularly by those close to you, out of
embarrassment or exhaustion, but most often a cancer patient needs to know that they are not alone in their fight. And the easiest part is that you are not even obligated to DO
anything. That is the coolest thing about presence. A phone call or letter when you are unable to be physically present is also great. One aspect of the Cancer for College scholarship application is an essay about “how cancer impacted your family.” I love reading stories about how family, friends, and entire communities come together to support one person’s battle, thus making it their battle, too. To know that you are not alone is just as powerful as any chemo treatment.


  1. Distraction

Let’s face it, as hard as they try, hospitals are uncomfortable places. They are not home. Everything is sterile, there are beeping contraptions attached to your body, the bed seems to have more buttons than a spaceship, and strange (but loving) people keep coming in
and out at all hours. You get the picture. It is easy to feel out of place, confined, and unsure what to do. Unlike the previous tip, this one is all about activity. Bring a little normalcy back to your friend’s life by engaging with them in their hobbies. My mom read
The Hatchet and Star Wars books with me, friends sat on the bed and played video games, and we built


The “Bald Buddies.” Three friends who willingly shaved their heads, played video games, and had a pie fight were great at distracting me when I needed them. (Photocred: Craig Friesen)

Zoids (giant, mechanical, fighting animal, robots. Very therapeutic, actually). We even
corralled some nurses into Nerf and water fights in the halls. This is what hospital volunteers do, and are amazing at it. I will never forget a volunteer, named Tosh, whose smile, jester hat, and willingness to just play brightened my day every time I saw him. Tosh became my friend because he made those hospital rooms feel more like home, and who better to help accomplish that than loved ones who essentially are your home.



  1. Honesty

This is the hardest one. The element no one likes, but still needs. Yet like a pinch of salt added to a meal, just a little honesty about the reality of cancer enhances and deepens the
flavor of your relationship. Cancer sucks. It is harsh, scary, and no one is prepared to face it when it hits. When you go through cancer, you are often changed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To every cancer patient, there is no reason to be ashamed or

Girl and dad

There will be challenges and hard talks, but stepping in to share that burden is so important. (photocred:

try to hide what is happening to you. True friends and family will never judge you, but will support you as best as possible. Let them. Cancer is a burden that is best carried by the strength of many shoulders, united FOR you and AGAINST it. There is a great poem that

someone shared with my family during our bout with cancer, and has since been shared with many of our friends in similar circumstances, which depicts what cancer cannot do (you can read it in its entirety here). The point, though, is that so often we let cancer control us by fear and the stigmatization that we need to be cautious and guarded around those battling the disease. I think that gives far too much power to cancer. The moments when I felt most loved and cared for during my battle were when people leveled with me about the reality of my diagnosis, and then made sure that I knew I was not my cancer.


I know this is a break from our regularly positive and happy posts about recipients who have beat cancer and have gone on to accomplish great things in college (like Yomi, Kalina, and Taylor) but we, at Cancer for College, know better than most how important it is to support one another throughout, and after, cancer. In the midst of your battle, we see your potential and want to be there to help you accomplish your dream of a college education. Keep fighting, and be sure to keep in touch with us when you fight off that cancer and are ready to get back doing what you love. We are here for you.

Cancer for College provides hope and inspiration to cancer survivors by granting college scholarships.  Since inception, we have granted over $2 million in scholarships to more than 1000 cancer survivors. To learn more about Cancer for College, and to donate to help a cancer survivor go to college, visit


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.


Cancer Disguised as Blessings

We are fully engrossed in reading through and grading applications for next year’s scholarship recipients, and we are so amazed that this is considered part of our job! On this Flashback Friday, we wanted to share with you, our readers, the story of one of our amazing perpetual recipients: Kashannah “Kash” Manawis. Enjoy her great story of overcoming cancer and using it for good!

Celebrating Survivors

“In high school and all throughout my childhood, becoming a doctor was an aspiration I chose purely based on my interest in human physiology and biology. However, towards graduation, the battle against cancer became personal.”

In her own words:

Kash Manawis, college student, cancer survivor

Though it seems cliché, I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was very young. This career choice made the most sense to me, as I have loved human physiology ever since the fifth grade, when I volunteered to stay after school to make a diagram that my teacher would use to introduce my classmates to the respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems (I was very proud).

Additionally, service work and volunteering is a joy of mine, and I have always thought that service to others is important to a well-rounded life, because it teaches selflessness and love. During high school I continued to volunteer regularly…

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Event Recap: Miss Greek 2016

This year Cancer for College partnered with the University of Washington’s Delta Tau Delta house for their annual Miss Greek fundraiser. One girl from eleven participating sororities was nominated to fundraise, campaign and compete in the annual pageant. This year the competition reached an all-time-high for creative fundraising, where Vodoo doughnut feeds, wing fests and hot dog truck parties were just some of the unique events featured over this 8-month fundraising campaign.

Each girl truly brought her own passion and love for philanthropy to the campaign. It was incredibly inspiring to see young adults with such busy lives, making time for this great cause.

On May 24th after months of fundraising it was officially time for the Miss Greek pageant. Each girl had the rare opportunity to showcase her talent; philanthropic address and personality walk for over 900 friends, family and donors at the Neptune Theatre.  Not only were the girls being viewed by their peers, friends and family but they were also being scored by an elite judging panel which included Miss Teen Washington USA, Claire Wright, Seattle Sounders player, Dylan Remick and King 5 News anchor Sula Kim.  Once the performances were complete and the girls had given their final philanthropic address, scores were counted and the top five were announced. Making the cut was, (Below, from left to right) Talia Vestal- Gamma Phi Beta, Daisha Campbell- Kappa Alpha Theta, Piper Wysaske Delta Gamma, Anissa Sangster – Pi Beta Phi and Katie Christensen- Alpha Chi Omega.miss greek 1

The top five qualifiers were then asked one last on stage question to determine who would become Miss Greek 2016. After the judges tallied fundraising dollars, talents, personality walk, philanthropic address and now the final Q&A answer, the winner was in. Katie Christensen of Alpha Chi Omega was the new Miss Greek 2016 raising over $20,000 for Cancer for College.

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Miss Greek 2016 – Katie Christenson               Alpha Chi Omega

In total the girls raised over $70,000 for Cancer for College setting a new standard for philanthropic excellence at the University of Washington.


Miss Greek has been a recognized philanthropic symbol throughout the 30 years it has been ran by Delta Tau Delta. This philanthropy is much more than just another event on campus, but is one that unites the University of Washington Greek community to fight for a good cause. With the combined efforts we have been recognized as one of the most successful philanthropic events on the West of the Mississippi, with over $1.7 million raised through it’s history. We are excited to keep the tradition going with it’s ongoing success and happy to support Cancer for College along the way.- Hayden Kasmark, Delta Tau Delta – Miss Greek Chair.

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About the author: having battled childhood Leukemia, Abigail Houck is an advocate for pediatric cancer patients and survivors. Though the odds may have been stacked against her, she always knew she would live to share her story and aid those who followed in her path. As the Northwest Director of Cancer for College, Abigail is determined to make her gift of life count by providing college scholarships to cancer patients who experienced the very same hardships she once did.