Wednesday, 11 May 2016

5 ways to be a good friend to someone with cancer.

1. Get in touch.

This may be an obvious one, but get in touch. Call them, send an email, send a text, send a card, send a carrier pigeon (although if your friend is hospital-bound the latter might be a slight infection risk). Even if you don't know what to say, just say this: "I don’t know what to say, but this fucking sucks". If you still haven't said anything, and it's six months later, it's not too late. It's never too late. In fact it can be better because they are likely to be very overwhelmed at first and people tend to drift away. Your message could be just the thing to get them through a rough day. They may not reply (I didn’t always), but messages of love and support were what got me through. Do not underestimate the importance of letting someone know you care.

My recommendations for cards: 
Emily McDowell empathy cards (also available through Not Another Bunch Of Flowers and The Curious Pancake). Also look on Etsy, Not On The Highstreet and Paperchase for cards which definitely don’t say "sorry you're feeling under the weather".

2. Be there.

If you can, physically be there. Go and watch TV with them, make your way through box sets, chat about what's going on beyond the four walls they are contained by for weeks at a time. Go with them to clinic appointments, check ups, chemos. I thought I was pretty strong during my treatment, but as I look back I realise it is only because my friends and family were there to keep my mind off things. 

3. Listen.

Sometimes, distraction is not the best therapy. Sometimes, your friend will need to talk about what really scares them. It will be hard to listen to and you will probably both end up having a good cry but it is necessary. I needed to talk about things, and I ended up having sessions with a psychologist who I could talk to about all the awful things that I couldn't say to my family and best friend because it was too much. But if your friend has noone to offload to, please allow yourself to hear it. You don't need to say anything, you don't need to tell them that it will all be okay, you don't need to tell them that you understand, just listen. 

4. Don't romanticise it.

Some people, often people who have never been affected either directly or indirectly by cancer, can romanticise it. They have probably watched Stepmom or The Fault in Our Stars. They might think that there is a certain morbid glamour to it. They might think that for a day it might be nice to be the centre of attention. They may have imagined themselves being ill and idealised the notion of being an inspiration to others, plucky and full of courage in the face of adversity. Spoiler alert: cancer isn't like it is in the films. Cancer is painful and traumatic and terrifying and life-altering and obscene and visceral, but cancer is not glamourous. While I think that I have handled my cancer fairly pragmatically, I also understand that dealing with cancer is a unique and deeply personal experience. I can not compare my experiences to someone with a terminal disease. I can not compare my experiences to someone with tumours. I cannot compare my experiences to someone who might lose a limb, or a breast or an organ. Thinking you understand what someone with cancer is going through is the first step towards being a very shit part of their support system.

5. Don't expect them to support you.

This is undoubtedly a difficult time for you. However, it is important that you do not make your friend feel like it is their responsibility to support you or shield you from the more troubling aspects of their experiences. Expecting them to be happy and positive and strong and brave and determined and all the other cancery buzzwords that cancer patients are expected to be is in fact a selfish act. Ask yourself, why do you want them to be so chipper? Is it because it makes it easier for you to bear? Of course, it is important to encourage a positive mindset because the depths of depression are not a good place for someone to constantly dwell, but it is necessary for them to explore those more sinister feelings and deal with them before they become too huge to handle. Generally speaking, you should encourage them to just go with however they are coping on each particular day, and allow them to really feel their emotions whether positive or negative.  

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