How you can help your friend

Best friends.

You might have a friend who has had a chronic illness for a long time. Perhaps it is something your friend just found out only recently. Either way, you are an important person in the life of your friend. You will have many questions about the chronic illness, what it means and how you can help.

What is a chronic illness?

There are many different kinds of chronic illnesses, and many ways that kids can be affected by them. Chronic illnesses can last for months, years or sometimes for the person's entire life. Some illnesses, such as cancer, might affect a person for years, and then disappear. Diabetes and sickle cell anemia are chronic illnesses that last for the person's entire life. Asthma might affect a person only at certain tinmes, e.g., when the person is exposed to allergens or triggers in the environment or comes down with a viral illness, like a cold or the flu. At other times, the person might be fine. Depression can last for months, or it might reccur throughout a person's life.

The one constant is that every person's situation is different. It is important to learn everything you can about your friend's diagnosis and unique symptoms.

Learning about chronic illness

Taking the time to learn about your friend's condition is the greatest gift you can provide. If you learn the facts:

  1. you will understand what your friend is going through
  2. you can help others understand
  3. you will know when and how to help your friend

You can find general information on this Web site and through other sources, but your friend is a unique person. You should also ask:

  • your friend
  • your teacher
  • your parents
  • your friend's parents
  • a counselor, physician or another trusted adult

Ask questions

These are some common questions:

Can I catch what my friend has?

This is a very commmon concern. However, the illness your friend has is not contagious, like a cold. It is more like being around someone with a broken leg. You can be together all day, but your leg will be fine.

If I have a cold, can I make my friend sick?

A person with a chronic illness often must take very strong medications. Sometimes, these medicines interfere with the body's ability to fight infections. So, yes, you should be careful around your friend. If you have a fever, a bad cough or a stomach ailment, you should stay away from your friend.

Frequent, effective handwashing might be the single most important thing you can do for your friend. Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom and whenever you touch a place that germs like to hide, including:

Toe typing?
  • door knobs
  • telephones and cell phones
  • noses
  • trash
  • computer keyboards

How can I help my friend feel better?

Living with a chronic illness is difficult and sometimes lonely. Don't be afraid to invite your friend over to have some fun. Even if your friend cannot come, the invitation itself will be greatly appreciated.

Remember: don't ever forget about your friend.

  • Brighten hospital stays with e-mails, phone calls and text messages. Don't forget about the old snail-mail. Greeting cards are a great treat.
  • Fill your friend in on all the events at school, scouts or sports:  who got in trouble, who got sent to the office, what nasty dish was served in the cafeteria and other funny things that occurred.
  • Help your friend with homework by explaining missed lessons and concepts.
  • Tell others in school that your friend needs the support of everyone.
  • Only your friend knows what help is needed. Perhaps your friend really just needs someone to listen and be a friend. The only way to find out is to ask questions. Talking to your friend will allow you to provide the needed help.
  • If you are worried about your friend or have questions, talk to your parents, teacher or another trusted adult.
  • Take the time to enjoy being with your friend.