In a previous post, I discussed a topic on which my friends have made me an expert: how to be a friend to someone with cancer. Of course, it looks different if you are one of the few women closest to the woman batting cancer. You may be leaned on more heavily for emotional and logistical support by your friend. So this post is for those of you who have one of your besties battling this terrible disease.
Recently, one of my close friends was talking about when I had cancer and said, “what we went through . . . ” and then stopped and said, “I mean, what you went through . . . ” I stopped her and told her that WE went through it. I look back on my cancer journey and know that for my close family and friends, we all had cancer together. Yes, they got to keep their hair, and our experience of the situation was different. But they bore my burdens to such an extent that we were all heavily affected by cancer.
If you have a close friend battling cancer, it has probably changed your life. You may want to read my previous post about helping a friend with cancer. I hope those ideas combined with this post will help you understand as much as possible what your friend is going through. Again, I am writing about women helping women. I won’t even try to guess what a man needs as he battles cancer. And everyone is different, so please ask questions, or even share this post with your friend with cancer and ask her what she agrees with from her experience.
1. Offer to coordinate help. Find out their meal needs, food allergies and dislikes, and set up an online calendar so friends can sign up. Your friend does not have the energy to sort through offers of meals, assign dates to people, and make sure she doesn’t get three lasagnas in a row. Ask your friend to send out a mass email or post on her Facebook wall that all offers of help should be sent to you, and then you can organize this for her. You may also help coordinate child care, housecleaning, and other logistical needs during her treatment.
2. Text or call when you’re heading to the grocery store. When I was in treatment, two of my close friends kept an envelope of my money in their purses. They would pick up groceries that we needed, figure out my total, and pay themselves out of my envelope. (I hope they rounded up, because I bet that was a pain.) When they ran out of my cash, I’d hand them some more. It was a huge help, since I was usually in Houston or didn’t have enough white blood cells to be at Wal-mart. And if my husband goes to the store, he comes home with Ramen noodles, Pringles, and Mountain Dew.
3. Anticipate needs she may not be thinking of (or not have the courage to ask for help with). When it’s time to sign up for items for a school party, sign up for her, and let her know you’ll grab it at the store and take it to the school. If your children are invited to a birthday party, offer to grab a gift for her child to take. (See how often that envelope of cash will come in handy?) Decorate her house for the holidays–and don’t forget to take the decorations down when the holiday has passed. These are all tasks my close friends helped with, and it was greatly appreciated.
4. Be sensitive to her need for normalcy. After just spending three paragraphs telling you to do everything you can for your friend, I’m going to throw a wrench into the formula and tell you this: your friend with cancer may be grasping at every bit of normalcy she can find. She may want to get her own groceries and do her own laundry or get the birthday party gift herself. Just be sensitive to what she’s capable of doing, ask questions, and let her tell you “no thanks.”
5. Tell your friend when people ask you how she’s doing. Cancer treatment can be lonely and isolating. Sometimes it feels like the normal world is going on without you, while you’re stuck in cancer world. It helps to know that people in the normal world are thinking about you and care enough to ask your friends how you are doing. You may also ask your friend to clarify which information can be shared with others and what needs to be kept private, as many may rely on you for information about how she’s doing.
6. Listen. Your friend has a lot on her mind. She’s been diagnosed with a serious illness, and depending on her treatment and her prognosis, she may be dealing with major changes to her body, her lifestyle, and her life expectancy. You cannot fix this. Even if you could figure out the most perfect, profound, thoughtful words to say, your friend would still have cancer. You don’t need to have answers or perfect words. Just sit with her, be a safe place, and listen.
7. Remember that your friend is overwhelmed. I hate to be harsh, because I know it is tough when your close friend has cancer. But you need to remember that this isn’t about you. Your friend is probably stressed, exhausted and highly emotional. She may say or do things that hurt your feelings. You will need to give your friend mountains of grace and forgiveness during this time, and you may want to find another friend who can help you process your feelings. Don’t try to ask for emotional support from your friend with cancer. She doesn’t have it to give right now.
8. Be positive. Whether she says it out loud or not, your friend with cancer is probably scared. If she needs to talk about death, do not blow her off and gloss over her fears by saying, “Oh, don’t talk that way–you will be fine.” Listen to her. But unless her doctors have told her that her disease is terminal, she needs you to remain positive. You may want to say something like, “I know you are scared. If the worst happens, I will help Steve with the kids. But we’re not to that point yet. You are beating this!”
9. Be in it for the long haul. My cancer treatment lasted for more than 8 months. And I am still dealing with the repercussions more than a year later, both physical and emotional. When you are first diagnosed with cancer, there is a huge outpouring of love and support. As time goes on, you start to wonder if people will move on to the next crisis before you are finished needing them. Let your friend know that you understand this is a long-term situation, and you aren’t going anywhere.
10. Understand that cancer will change your friend forever. Your friend will be different, even after her cancer treatment is over. Some of her friendships will survive this change, and others won’t. If you want to be one of the friendships that survives, you must be willing to walk through these changes with her. Be supportive of her new, cancer-related friendships. Listen, ask questions and try to understand what it’s like for her as a cancer patient or a cancer survivor. Be a safe place where she can talk about her fears and disappointments. Know what conversation topics or events can trigger emotions about what she’s going through (or what she’s been through). Realize that cancer will impact her life on a daily basis even after she’s finished with treatment and everyone else celebrates and moves on.
A note to my friends: This list is compiled from the wonderful ways you supported me and from my own failures as a friend, not yours. God used each one of you in His perfect way to be what I needed in different ways and different times. You are one of His great expressions of His love for me, and I love you all.Share