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How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick

3.75  ·  Rating Details ·  261 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
Everyone knows someone who’s sick or suffering. Yet when a friend or relative is under duress many of us feel uncertain about how to cope.

Throughout her recent bout with breast cancer, Letty Cottin Pogrebin became fascinated by her friends’ and family’s diverse reactions to her and her illness: how awkwardly some of them behaved; how some misspoke or misinterpreted her nee
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published April 9th 2013 by PublicAffairs (first published January 1st 2013)
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Rachelle Urist
Apr 21, 2014 Rachelle Urist rated it really liked it
At age 70, Letty Cottin Pogrebin was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, four years later, she is a cancer survivor and author of How to be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick. The book is a collection of interviews, observations, and philosophical ruminations on the perils and unexpected perks of treatment for this frightening illness. Surprised by the camaraderie she finds in the hospital waiting rooms, she interviews fellow patients. How to be a Friend is a helpful record of the emotional roller c ...more
Jul 06, 2013 Holly rated it really liked it
At this point, I could probably write an essay on this topic myself. This is a helpful resource, both for "beginners" who feel uncomfortable with sickness/death/need and are unsure how to help as well as for "advanced friends" who want to hone their caretaking skills to better help a relative or friend. Some of the advice is common sense, but knowing what to do and actually doing it are very, very different. Reading what various friends did right and wrong from the perspective of the person who ...more
Mar 13, 2013 Julie rated it it was amazing
This book is a fantastic book. I saw this book by chance and am so thankful I did. I never would have thought to look for a book about being a friend to someone who is sick, so I bought it, and loved it! Although the topic is sad, this book had many personal, heartwarming stories. Everyone has friends or relatives, or even has friends who have relatives/other friends who are suffering. I found this advice helpful not only to comfort and support my friends and relatives who are sick, but helpful ...more
May 02, 2013 Reese marked it as currently-visiting
In the Preface to this work, Letty Cottin Pogrebin reminds her readers: "Remember that this book does not have to be read from cover to cover; it can be dipped into as needed"(xi). Instead of marking the statement "no-brainer," I thought, "Some people probably need to see that suggestion; nevertheless, I intend to read HOW TO BE A FRIEND TO A FRIEND WHO'S SICK from beginning to end." Now that I'm reading it, I've changed my plans; I expect to read the entire work -- eventually, but in pieces and ...more
Sep 11, 2013 Deena rated it it was ok
My best friend has an auto-immune disease that has changed her life. I was really hoping for some good, sound, and creative ways to help her, as well as how to deal with the effects of her disease on our friendship. Instead, the author offers self-explanatory ideas like "Ask what they need" or "talk to them about Other Things too". I've already read that book, it's called Being A Human Being.

Not only were there not really any interesting ideas, most of them were contradictory, ie "Bill liked ta
Aug 12, 2013 Fran rated it it was amazing
1) Have you ever had a friend with a critical illness, a terminal illness, or one that's had a terrible accident?

2) Have you ever said to yourself, about such a friend, well, I don't need to call because they have so many family members and better friends around? I will wait until I hear from them.

3) Have you ever asked that friend, "tell me what I can do for you?" and after not hearing from the friend didn't contact him/her again?

4) Have you ever given unsolicited advice to a friend facing a co
Aug 17, 2014 Jeff rated it it was amazing
One of the most helpful guides for both patient, caregivers, family, and friends. Offers an insightful list of how to help and also ask for help - something that patients often don't know how to do. As a counselor to cancer survivors, I suggest this title to the patient and family who are encountering this frightening disease for the first time. Unfortunately so many are unprepared - they have never been this sick, to this depth, for so long a time. This book provides both relief and guidance fo ...more
Mar 18, 2014 Shruti rated it liked it
3.5 stars

The book How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick by Letty Cottin Pogrebin was recommend to me by my therapist when we were discussing how hard it is sometimes for me to be a good friend and equally to deal with unsupportive friends/family. Pogrebin started thinking about this topic when she was fighting breast cancer and noticed the varied reactions of her friends and family. The book is actually a collection of short stories from people with varied experiences intermixed with Pogrebi
Jul 05, 2013 Nicholas rated it really liked it
I bought the book after seeing Pogrebin speak about it in a sort of staged conversation with her friend Gloria Steinem at a "City Arts and Lectures" lecture in San Francisco. The two of them were both interesting and witty about their own experiences with breast cancer and then Steinem asked Pogrebin a series of questions about the book, in which she also made clear that it included discussions of death and bereavement as well. Always game to read anything about death, I decided to give this one ...more
May 02, 2013 Ellen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Except for a total recluse, we will all at some point be a patient, caregiver or friend/relative of someone who is seriously ill or facing a disability or situation that changes the way s/he lives his/her life. Many of us are ill-equipped to offer words of comfort or provide assistance. The impetus for the book was the author’s diagnosis of breast cancer at age 70 but the book is really about the broader issues. She has interviewed many people in different circumstances so the book seems much mo ...more
May 24, 2013 Sabkymom rated it really liked it
A very good book. Covers a lot of ground. But missed 5 star standing because there were so many passages about the author's cancer experience that seemed to exist purely as shout outs to the hospital staff and less for the purposes of teaching "friends to be good friends..." Somewhat distracting. However, if edited out (which easily can be done when reading because the pages are colored differently), strong content and great nuggets of advice.
Dana Brittan
Dec 01, 2013 Dana Brittan rated it liked it
The title itself should be enough to indicate that this book is not uplifting... but there were some helpful insights and ideas to consider.
Jun 10, 2013 Dannie rated it really liked it
Only thing missing was an obstetrical section, but otherwise, very good book.
Feb 10, 2013 Erin rated it it was ok
I am a classic sufferer of foot-in-mouth syndrome and general inappropriateness around those ill/hurting/suffering. I want to show I care so badly, but I rarely know how and I'm either awkward or do nothing, both of which I'm sure leave the other person feeling I don't care at all.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin found many of her relationships with friends and acquaintances left something to be desired after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Curious about how unpredictable and varied the reactions wer
Cori McGraw
Mar 06, 2014 Cori McGraw rated it liked it
I think this book is a timely topic, as most of us will at some point have someone close to us experience a serious illness. I picked it up looking for insights on what actions and words are most useful from the patient's perspective in terms of support.

I give this book high marks for tackling this topic, and for pointing out things that might not be obvious to everyone (such as that supporting the main caregiver may be equally important as supporting the patient.)

Where the book fell short for m
Dec 24, 2013 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Advice and anecdotes on helping sick and grieving friends are divided by "interludes," short chapters about Pogrebin's personal cancer journey.

The author repeats what she says are the key things to remember when trying to understand how to be there for a sick friend: ask and act, tell the truth, and be willing to do what you offer to do. These seem like basics, but it's helpful to have them fleshed out with a few concrete examples and suggestions.

Pogrebin muddies her helpful advice in two ways.
K2 -----
Dec 04, 2013 K2 ----- rated it really liked it
This should be required reading for anyone who cares about being a good friend in thick and thin.

If you have ever felt like you might be chewing on your foot when approaching delicate health situations with friends this book will serve as a welcome guidebook for your journey.

This book is full of wisdom and practical advice. It can be read front to back as I did or dipped in and out of as a reference book for a particular situation. Ms Pogrebin is known to many in my generation as the MS Magazin
May 21, 2014 Sevenponds rated it really liked it

The occasion was Ms. Pogrebin’s introduction to her new book, “How to Be A friend To A Friend Who’s Sick.” A number of years ago, she was wrangling with the emotional aspects of having breast cancer. Having to deal with cancer was one thing, but on top of that was the emotional difficulty of breaking the news to friends and interacting with them throughout the process. Letty bared her soul to the audience about the universal inability to talk about having a terminal illness or dying. She went in
Nov 13, 2013 Cara rated it it was amazing
I've had very little experience with friends' illnesses, and I'm always afraid of putting my foot in my mouth or making things worse. When a good friend had a serious stroke, I had no idea what to expect or how to act. This book provided really useful guidance exactly when I needed it.

In the first few days, my friend's family repeatedly asked everyone NOT to visit, and I really wasn't sure if this was some kind of trick or test to see who his real friends were, or if it really would be better n
Oct 20, 2013 Leigh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great idea of Letty's, while she is waiting at Memorial Sloan Kettering for cancer treatments, to interview other patients who are also waiting and find out about their experiences communicating with friends about their illnesses. A lot of the resulting anecdotes are interesting and enlightening and also sad of course. Letty seems to draw good conclusions and sensible advice from them. The big problem is the lack of diversity. Most of the interviewees and examples are upper middle class people i ...more
Jun 04, 2013 Katrinka rated it really liked it
An important and valuable book that offers real-life experiences of loss and love that open the windows of understanding and sensitivity to those in our lives undergoing trials and heartache, as well as genuine and appropriate possible responses to those individuals. I don't come away confident I'll respond perfectly each time to my friends or family in pain, or even the courage to do so, knowing that each person and situation is so different and sensitive, and that what works for one person may ...more
Jaana Ylikangas
Jul 16, 2014 Jaana Ylikangas rated it liked it
A rather wide range of difficulties were covered. The book contains heart warming and heart breaking accounts of deeds by friends, family and people who were sick. Its main asset is providing the etiquette, guidelines in how to behave. In short: ask and act, act and ask, be attentive, show up, pay your respects in person.

The writing and substance are somewhat uneven - from excellent parts about breast cancer to - in my opinion - lacking insight in dementia. The anecdotal character and name drop
May 31, 2013 Emily rated it it was ok
I got this thinking it would help me help a friend who is going through chemotherapy, and while it hasn't really helped, it does provoke thought. Much of it is so obvious it doesn't need saying, but there are sections I have found worth reading. It is always good to hear what one shouldn't say and it does stir ones thoughts about feelings of guilt versus true friendship, should's vs. want to's, etc. I found that the chapters which are autobiographical were more interesting than those in which th ...more
Jun 10, 2016 Sarah rated it really liked it
LOVE, Love, Love this book so far in chapter 1. I need the advice in this book because I absolutely never know anything helpful to say to people suffering through illness or loss. Only pushback I have so far is this: no doubt there are many well-intentioned friends who deeply hurt and offended their suffering friend in the midst of illness. Unfortunately, the ways we humans are thoughtless, tactless, and offensive will never cease to amaze us. I am not excusing the people who have offended their ...more
May 30, 2013 Bonnie rated it it was ok
Like many others, I found myself frustrated by the conflicting advice. Wouldn't it be better to say that all people are different and sometimes the best thing to do is just be honest?

It's not a bad book and maybe I should have upped the stars I gave it, but I found myself disliking the author for reasons I can't fathom--or maybe it's not that I dislike her but I don't understand her. She's writing all about a very personal journey but then she talks about not wanting to talk about it--she just
Connie Pollock
Aug 12, 2016 Connie Pollock rated it it was amazing
Probably not a great book for anyone who's uncomfortable with illness. Unfortunately, at some point in our lives, we're either going to know someone or be that someone. For me, the most frustrating part is hearing someone say, Whatever I said would sound stupid or I don't know what to say when they found out I was dealing with an illness which makes a person feel like they're out on an island, isolated because you feel like your presence upsets others. How I wish I had this book to hand to anyon ...more
Lena R
Aug 15, 2014 Lena R rated it it was amazing
I found this book when trying to support one of my closest friends through breast cancer earlier this year. Pogrebrin's candidly shares her personal experience as a breast cancer patient, and bases her recommendations on interviews with dozens of women going through difficult times. It was an easy and compelling read, and has changed the way I reach out to anyone in pain. I gifted a copy to my sick friend, and recommended it to another friend who's the main caretaker for husband who suffered a m ...more
Jun 11, 2013 Martha rated it liked it
This book provides valuable information for both friends. Whether you're the sick one or the one giving aid. Timing was good for me since I am a driver this week for a friend who is having a minor procedure. End of the month I will be spending two days and nights with another friend who is single as she recovers from major surgery and cannot be left alone. This will be my training for another friend whom I hope to assist during treatments. I love being needed again! Letting me help is a gift the ...more
Dec 05, 2013 Ann rated it really liked it
It's good. The suggestions are so down-to-earth and ready for anyone to apply. The author's very concrete advice encouraged me to make my words and efforts more directed and helpful. So much of the book has come directly from the lips of people who are undergoing cancer treatments, or who have suffered loss and have then been hurt by their friends -- oh, that we would learn from these experiences! I also appreciated the tender closing thoughts, gently advising one to build friendships with the r ...more
Sep 03, 2016 Sharron rated it really liked it
Shelves: health
The author spends more time than is strictly necessary describing her own personal health issues, hence the four star rating. But for that, it was a five star read particularly as the scope of the book is actually broader than the title would lead you to believe. Bottom line, the advice she gives is not always obvious especially if you are healthy and/or the people you love are. And even obvious advice bears repeating judging by the sometimes funny but more often cringeworthy examples of social ...more
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LETTY COTTIN POGREBIN, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, is a writer, lecturer, social justice activist, and the author of ten books -- nine non-fiction works, two novels. Here you can find her biography, a list of her published works, lecture topics, and a schedule of public events related to her upcoming book, SINGLE JEWISH MALE SEEKING SOUL MATE, which will be published in May 2015 by the Femi ...more
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