02/08/2014 10:31 BST | Updated 01/12/2014 06:59 GMT

The C-word: What to Do, When You Don't Know What to Do

When we find out that a friend or relative has cancer, it often brings out the best, or the worst, in us.

It can turn us into super-attentive, meal-making, help-giving super mates, or send us shuffling, scared, in the opposite direction. Anecdotes abound about friends who disappeared after news of a diagnosis, and this can be something that causes further hurt at an already stressful time.

However, the likelihood is that these people aren't necessarily bad people, or even bad friends; they just don't know what to do or how to deal with their own emotions about cancer, so plump for the head-in-sand route.

But if you're one of those people, or fear that's where you're headed, it doesn't have to be that way. At Fcancer, a platform that links up cancer charities with volunteers who can donate their time on an ad hoc basis, we know from personal experience what people can do to help when a loved one has cancer.

So here's our suggestions for what to do, when you just don't know what to do.

Say something

If you don't know what to say, then there's nothing wrong with saying just that. Don't simply ignore the issue and say nothing. They'll think you don't care. When you're feeling vulnerable and afraid, it's nice just to know people are thinking of you.

Be a bringer of diversion...

As well as being gruelling, terrifying and upsetting, cancer can also be pretty boring. In a matter of months, you can go from being someone with a full, active, social life, to someone whose world has shrunk to just two places - home and the hospital.

So, whatever you can do to break up their day, whether that's sitting with them as they undergo chemo, sending flowers, lending them a DVD you know they'd love or even just texting them - it will be welcome.

Be practical

British politeness often means people feel uncomfortable accepting help, but simply changing the way you ask the question can work wonders.

'Let me know if I can do anything' should be replaced with 'Can I do X?'. This could be anything from buying a birthday present for their mum or cleaning their flat, to looking after their dog or just popping round with four pounds of brie and then leaving again.

By asking closed-ended rather than open questions, they'll know you mean business when you say you want to help them. So, even if your suggestions aren't quite what they had in mind, they're more likely to speak up and tell you what you CAN do.

Mirror them

The idea of 'mirroring' is a good way to respond to your friend with cancer. If they're in a really low mood, don't crank your tempo up to high-octane in the hope that it'll cheer them up. Similarly, if they're in a mood to poke fun at what's happening when you're really upset about what's happening to them, don't try to bring them down to earth. Follow their lead and just listen to whatever they want to talk about.

Be brave

You may be enormously upset that your friend has cancer, but this isn't about you. It's about them. Be brave and do all you can to help them.

Fcancer is running a free meet-up event for cancer charities and people who are interested in pledging their skills on 11th August 2014. If you're interested in attending, or finding out more about becoming an Fcancer volunteer, click here.