Finding out that you have cancer is a very shocking and humbling experience. Not everyone will process and deal with their diagnosis in the same way. Some people will want the support of their friends and family, and others may not. No matter how you choose to deal with your cancer, telling your friends and family will be difficult. What we as patients must realize, is that chances are that our friends and family simply do not know how to deal with our illness. They do not know what to do or say, and may often say or do the wrong thing.
For me, I have pretty much always been an open book. People know how I feel and what I think. When telling my friends and family that I had leukemia, I simply just blurted it out; I have leukemia. I really did not want them to feel sorry for me, or to feel as though they could not talk about it. It always makes me feel a bit better when we can just look each other in the eye and say, “That really sucks!”
So, if you are a friend or family member, you should definitely commiserate with them; let them know that you are really sorry that they must endure, and battle their cancer. Let them know that you still love and care for them, and continue treat them exactly the same way that you have always treated them. Don’t start treating them as though they are already dead or dying, but do understand if they need a little more leniency when it comes to making and keeping plans, or being able to keep up with you the way they used to.
Let them know that it is OK to ask about your progress, treatments and prognosis; maybe you could even offer to keep them company on some of those long “doctor” or treatment days. Showing up with a pot of soup and a puzzle when they are going through a rough patch, will be a great diversion; but try not to be upset if they need to save that soup and puzzle for another day. It may be difficult for you to figure out when you should go or stay, but your act of kindness will always be welcomed. Use your best judgment and just try and be a bit more aware of their physical fatigue.
I know that it has always been very difficult for me to “ask” for help in any way shape or form, so chances are that even if you “ask” me, I will decline the offer. I know that this sounds stupid, but showing up with a hot meal, a bag of groceries, or nail polish to do my nails would be a very welcomed gesture, but if you ask me if I need anything, I am certain to say, “Thank you so much for asking, but no, I am fine.”
As time goes on, God willing, the person battling cancer will begin to improve or beat their cancer all together. Some will physically return to “normal”, but for them, it will be a “new” and different normal. This is to be expected. Know that inquiring about their health is still alright, and that if you are ever the one with cancer, that you expect them to show up with that pot of soup, and a brand new board game!
Things to Do, and Not Do:
1. Send a card in the mail.
2. Send an email or text, just to say hi; sometimes a phone call is just too exhausting.
3. Drop off a meal and something “sweet.”
4. Share a book that you have read.
5. Share a puzzle of game.
6. Drop off a bag of “everyday” foods, from the market.
7. Drive your friend to an appointment or treatment.
8. Show up and give your friend a mini spa day; in the comfort of their home.
9. If they have lost their hair, bring a trendy hat and maybe some fabulous false lashes.
10. Bring your sense of humor!
11. Anything soft and fluffy is appreciated.
12. Don’t be afraid to give them a hug and share a few tears.
13. Don’t compare their illness with others.
14. Don’t offer medical advice, such as the latest trendy, crazy treatments and diets that you have heard of.
15. Continue to be the same person that you have always been and understand that your friend may not be able to be the same person, filling the same roles that they always have in the past.