I lost another friend last week, this time to inflammatory breast cancer. It’s a particularly nasty form that often comes on suddenly, acting similar to mastitis (also an inflammation, usually related to breastfeeding), and spreads quickly. Her oncologist had only seen 12 cases in his practice, and every one of the women who had it died.

By chance, my husband and I had been in her town three weeks earlier and arranged to visit; two weeks later, she was gone. The funeral was this past weekend. (This is a good time to remind you to hug the people you love every chance you get!)

I recently heard that another friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer; fortunately, not the inflammatory kind. So far, she’s had a lumpectomy, and I will be in touch this week to see where things are at. Two other friends have been through breast cancer treatments and recently passed the magical five-year mark.

So over the years, I’ve been collecting suggestions on how to best support a friend who has cancer. These are some ideas:

Make sure she knows about community support groups. Wellspring is one resource in many Canadian cities that offers workshops and discussions, newsletters, a lending library and a quiet place to meet with other patients and family members who share similar concerns, questions and needs. The one near me has sessions coming up that deal with post-treatment depression and eating well on a budget.

Go online and get informed. One of the first places to look online is a reputable organization like the Canadian Cancer Society. Whether or not your friend goes online, you should, to learn as much as you can.

Get involved, if your friend wants you to. Maybe you can drive your friend to appointments, or sit with her when she’s going through chemo. Find out if she feels like a visitor.

Offer practical help, and be specific. Rather than say, “Let me know if I can help,” say “When can I…” and offer to do something — housekeeping, laundry, shopping, updating other friends on her progress. Bring dinner or goodies you know she likes (call first) but may not feel like making herself; best if it’s something she can freeze and reheat in case someone else has brought something.

Stay in touch. The treatment cycle is long, and people sometimes feel awkward about checking in because they don’t know what to say. (How about just, “I was thinking of you”?) Keep in touch by e-mail. Randomly send a card or flowers to let her know you are thinking of her.

Have you helped support a friend with cancer? What did you do?