What do I do, how do I be a friend when my friend is living with cancer?
I decided to touch on this because I think this is a tough area for everyone. Just last week I sent an e-mail to a few friends after talking with my counselor and decided I needed to be specific about how they could help. Realizing that others don't know what you need if you don't ask. Many people can't or won't ask so I hope this puts a voice to those that need it. There are some do's & dont's here that I hope you find helpful. I realize that it is very difficult to know what to say or do so hopefully some of this will help you and your friend. After 10 years of living with cancer these are a few things that I have found helpful~
~ phone calls, cards, e-mails, comments on their blog, etc. Sometimes phone calls are too much, especially if your friend is going through treatments and does not feel well. If you are a caretaker, maybe encourage letting voice mail pick up the calls until the person feels up to returning them. Don't be discouraged if you don't hear back from them, it still means a lot.
~ going for a walk or run together if your friend is well enough. This is always a nice change and helped me both times. Getting outdoors and moving is very therapeutic however sometimes your friend may need encouragement to get out there.
~ Staying positive about your friends future. Talk about goals, plans, life. There are plenty of doubts regarding the future and talking about moving forward is very helpful.
~ talk about your life and family ( hopefully the positive things). Your friend wants the distraction of other people's lives. Not to dwell on theirs all the time.
~ No-one wants to be in this situation, and your friend definitely does not want to be perceived as "unable". If they are up to it give them opportunities to help you or others. This may be in a big or small way. Whatever they may be up to, use your discretion so they don't feel "obligated" if it is too much. Many people going through or that have been through cancer like to "speak" to groups or encourage others in any way that is helpful. If there is an oppurtunity, ask them.
~ Get together. Do the things you always did together. Go out for lunch, coffee, shopping etc. If your friend is not up to that just visit, talk, watch a movie together. Work on a project together ( photos, painting, family journals, etc). Especially during times that family members are away. Idle time is very difficult, so filling in some of that time is helpful.
~ Let your friend know you are praying for them. I can personally tell you I know when there is prayer being lifted up for me. Trust me-they know.
~ Let them know how you feel about them, that you love them and what they mean to you.
~ Have Fun! Laugh!
What to avoid~
~ Questions, questions, questions. It is very difficult for the person with cancer to continually be answering questions. Each time it brings the situation to the forefront of their minds and they have to then work very hard to "shake it".
It is understandable that you want to know what's going on and how your friend is "really" doing. I have been in the same position with many friends. If they have a blog or newsletter that is the best way to keep up with the details they want to share. Otherwise asking someone like their caretakers, or family would be a better alternative.
~ Don't ask them if they are going to die or how long they have to live. Yes, people do ask these questions. This is troubling enough with out having to answer that question. Remember, be positive and look forward with them. If they want to share that, they will.
~ please do not feel the need to tell your friend about everyone you know that has cancer and how horrible a time they had or that they did not make it. This really does not help. If the story does not have a happy ending it is not appropriate to share with your friend or their family members.
~ please avoid introducing your friend as "this is the one with cancer" or "cancer patient". Your friend is trying to live a normal life and their "normal" name works just fine :)
~ If your friend is in treatment, be encouraging about the beautiful person they are to you. Avoid focusing on what it may be doing to them physically. It is temporary. It is not helpful to your friend if you take one look at them and begin to cry or have a horrified look on your face. Just remember who that person is~ your friend.
Most people are affected by cancer in one way or another. I hope that sharing this is helpful to you and your friend should you ever be in this situation.
I know some of you are also survivors, family members, caretakers, etc. Your thoughts left in the "comments" section would be great to share on this subject from your own experiences.