By Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea
Within our families and friend groups, various needs pop up for different people. It can feel a bit like playing “whack-a-mole” as we do our best to give everyone what they need. Sometimes some situations need your attention no matter what everyone else is asking from you.
Recently, my (Nadine’s) circle has been struck with several cancer diagnoses. From ages 15 – 60 years old, so it has run the gamut from “likely curable with treatment” to “get your affairs in order.” Speaking as someone whose own family has dealt with cancer for many years, here are some tips on what to do from my perspective. The level and type of support will vary somewhat depending on how close you are to the person struggling, so please consider that as you review the list.
Don’t forget the caregiver – the person who has the diagnosis is undoubtedly scared and needs support, but so does the caregiver. That person is equally afraid but has to put on a brave face for their loved one. They sometimes handle all the appointments, insurance, medication refills, and disbursement, and they are the ones who are there during the patient’s darkest moments. Care for them – they need you even when they say they don’t (which they will).
Pop Over with a Gift Bag – the fact that you are thinking of them during a trying time can give them the support they need to feel like they will be okay. For the teen, a journal to write down her thoughts and things that she is grateful for during her treatment. A bag of knitting supplies for the friend who is going to be recovering after surgery. For the dear friend who’s husband is terminal, a bracelet that says “just breathe” and little note cards sent randomly to brighten her day. Cash and gift cards are also super helpful. Daily treatments mean daily parking fees.
Understanding – they might not be able to do the same things they used to do. The person who has slowed down by the fight needs to know that your friendship will be solid no matter what he or she can do.
Don’t ignore it – ignoring that your friend’s diagnosis with cancer shows your level of discomfort with them. The person fighting cancer is not able to ignore its reality, and you might find that he or she might even mention it around you to show you it is okay to discuss it. If he or she feels that you are uncomfortable around them, they might not want to spend as much time with you. He or she will not want to make you uncomfortable.
Please, please, please, no pity – pity is the worst. Seriously, do not pity anyone. Ever.
Randomly text them – if you don’t know what to say, text that you are thinking of them, text something funny you found on Facebook, or just a heart emoji.
Don’t add to their stress – sometimes people do this without meaning to, but some people tend to think more about themselves than others. Don’t be that person. Their experience isn’t about you.
The bottom line is to be there unconditionally no matter what else is going on in your own life.