Monday, April 2, 2012

Friends with cancer


Another friend was diagnosed with cancer. The news devastated us all. I flailed around, not sure how to best help this particular friend.

 How do you show you care? 

Here are my thoughts on the matter.

Be a sounding board. The best thing a friend can do is sit and listen. Sometimes just the companionship is enough. Other times, listening is the trick. This is not the time to ramble on and on about every person you ever knew who had cancer; this is the time to use your ears.

The affirmative power of touch. Cancer patients often feel sick, so it’s important to ask about touching before you go barging in and bestowing big hugs. A pat on the arm or the shoulder is a good way to show you still consider this person a valued friend or family member. Let them direct how much touch they’d like to have from you.

Bring a gift. A new set of sleeping apparel (nightgown/pajamas) is a nice gesture. So is a specialty pillow or slippers. Avoid highly scented items like flowers and candles, which may aggravate nausea. Perhaps a thick robe, a shawl, or stylish headwear would also be welcomed. Books, movies, and music are a welcome diversion.

Meals. Your friend with cancer will have specific meal requirements. Find out what they are. Provide what works for you. Remember that the caretaker needs to eat too. Don’t forget if you volunteer to do this!



Practical help. Lending a hand is easy. You can cut the lawn, weed the flower beds, vacuum, do the laundry, clean the bathrooms, or whatever help is needed.

Bill-paying. Your friend may need help paying bills. It may be as simple as doing everything but signing their checks for them. Or spearhead a community drive to help provide financial assistance.    

Driving and errands. Many cancer patients require daily radiation treatments. If you can provide respite for their caregiver, that’s a help. A gas card is a help. Running errands, like grocery shopping, is also helpful.
 
Know when to stay away. If your friend prefers solitude, respect his/her wishes. A weekly card, a brief phone call, or a text message are a way to reach out to them.

Conversation. Don’t shy away from hard topics or sadness, but remember to also ask about your friend’s interests. Talk about the future. Allow the cancer patient to focus on something other than this illness.

Be consistent. Follow-through with commitments you make to your friend.    

Those are my thoughts on helping friends with cancer. Please share your thoughts on how you’ve helped someone, or how someone has helped you.  

Maggie Toussaint
tackling another one of life's mysteries
www.maggietoussaint.com                                

42 comments:

  1. Maggie,

    As someone who has spent the last year helping to care for my mom with cancer, you are right on target with everything.

    Beth

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Beth. In a private correspondence Beth also mentioned that I might add to not get offended by what the cancer patient says. Sometimes that's the pain or the medication talking.

      I appreciate your comments, Beth. And God bless you and your Mom.

      Maggie

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  2. MAGGIE--it's tough...I know. One thing about visits--make sure the person is ready for someone to visit.Often, as you say, Maggie, they feel sick, nauseous, and just want to be left alone. I've too many well-meaning people trying to do too much, because they really, really want to help. And more than often, the person wants quiet and solitude. It takes a lot of energy to visit.
    The Caring Bridge site is wonderful, for those who are computer savvy and would like something such as this.
    Thanks for sharing, Maggie--you will know what to do and when. Trust yourself.

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    Replies
    1. You always sound so grounded, Celia. Whenever news like this comes up, I get all fluttery inside and common sense goes out the window. That's why this time I sat down and made a list. I'm good with lists. And the nice thing about this list is that it's really an a la carte menu. You can mix and match, do one thing or more, whatever works. And it doesn't all have to be done at once by one person. In fact, I think it's best if you spread the visits out.

      I appreciate your care for me. Thanks!
      Maggie

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  3. Maggie,
    *Hugs* Excellent post - thank you. I'm so sorry to hear the news. My prayers for your friend.
    God bless,
    Diana

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    Replies
    1. thank you, Diana. Friends like you are special.
      Maggie

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  4. Maggie,

    This is such wonderfully helpful advice! I'm bookmarking it. I send my prayers to your friend as well.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jackqueline. Prayers are always welcome.
      Maggie

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  5. A dear friend of mine died of leukemia almost 15 years ago after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant at the age of 48. I still miss her terribly. The moment I cherish most, both because she trusted me and because I really think I managed to be helpful, was when she said, "I'm scared," and I hugged her and said, "I know." Like listening, validating ALL of a loved one's feelings is harder than it sounds but can be a real gift to the person who's feeling them.

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    Replies
    1. Liz, What a touching testimony. I see from your words that your friend was truly a special person. She must have been greatly comforted by your kindness.

      Thanks for sharing that with us.
      Maggie

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  6. Hi, Maggie. I had to read this because today I had my annual mammogram. Your advice about how to help those was very helpful. Thank you for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. Vicki, I hope your mammogram went well. I always dread the procedure but it truly is only a few moments of discomfort. Wishing you all the best, Maggie

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  7. My very best friend that I have know since 8th grade died of brain cancer a few years ago. I lived long ways away and made plans to go stay with her.
    She died the day I left to see her.
    I couldn't do much. But, her sister told me that she looked forward to our conversations and it made her forget her problems as we exchanged banter just like we always have. Sometimes just being there for someone and listening is all you can do. I sent her little gifts and surprises and she loved to get them.
    I miss her...

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    Replies
    1. Mary, Your words brought a tear to my eye. You did just what your friend needed with the calls and little gifts. And how nice for her sister to share how much you meant to her.

      This life is an odd journey. We often forget the destination isn't the point. Thanks for being so kind to your friend and lightening her load. Maggie

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  8. As a breast cancer survivor (diagnosed 7/3/07) this advice is dead on! While going through treatments, sometimes I needed a hug. At other times, if anyone had touched me, I would have fallen apart completely. Cancer patients are sick They're not dead. Laughter isn't disrespectful, it's curative. I needed all the laughs I could get. And meals for my family so I didn't feel as if I was neglecting them. Listen and observe with your heart. And don't forget to pray for your friends with cancer.

    Great post, Maggie. You ARE a true and caring friend.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Lilly, Congratulations on being a breast cancer survivor. I'm glad to know that my advice list is helpful. I hope I'm able to help my friend throughout treatment. Keep on keeping on! Maggie

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  9. What a wonderful way to show you care, Maggie! I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. My mil passed with cancer in 2004 and that was the closest time I've been near this particular disease. It was hard to watch her waste away, drugged on morphine while her loved ones sat near and cried. I learned during that time to just be there for dh and his family. As you said, a sounding board since mil wasn't coherent during the final days. Her cancer was found on a Saturday and two weeks later she passed in her sleep on a Saturday. I learned a lot during that two weeks, but not enough.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Calisha, I'm sorry to hear about your mil. Serious illness is never easy on the patient of course, but also on the family. That short of a notice is challenging to cope with. There's a difference between doing and being. Sometimes its necessary to just be there. Thanks for the comment. Maggie

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  10. Maggie, God bless you for this thoughtful post and for your insightful suggestions Holly

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    Replies
    1. thank you for the visit, Holly. Blessings to you,
      Maggie

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  11. Great tips, Maggie. Thoughtful, practical and loving.

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  12. Your suggestions are great. I remember one friend was so glad that when I called we could talk about something other than her cancer. She had a gentle rule - "don't ask me how I am? Just talk to me about writing and books and all the things we talked about before I got cancer." I think of that now when talking to other friends who have cancer or some other serious illness.

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    1. It's so nice to hear this advice in common usage. I find that the illness is the first thing on my mind when I talk to my friend. I have to dredge up the other topics and sit on the cancer questions, which isn't as easy as you might think. My curiosity is at times much stronger than my empathy. I blame it on all those years as a scientist. Thanks for the comments, Maryann

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  13. All wonderful suggestions. Thank you, Maggie, for this enlightening post.

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  14. It's not everybody's coping skill of choice but there's data to support it's efficacy: I keep my ailing friends in my thoughts and hope good things for them. Some people call this prayer

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    1. Grace, You're entirely right. I can't believe I forgot to mention prayer. It is such a big part of healing. I hear of someone with trouble and I stop and pray for them right then. Thank you so much for adding this to the list! Maggie

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  15. I wanted to mention a site called chemo angels.

    Folks sign up as chemo patients, and others sign up as angels. The Angels send cards or letters or little gifts every week to the patient. The patient has absolutely no obligation to ever acknowledge the gifts. They are little pick me ups for the week, and it's nice to read about someone else's life and not worry so much about your own.

    chemoangels.com. I've been both a patient and a card angel. Great service.

    Best wishes to your friend.

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    Replies
    1. I didn't know about chemoangels.com Abigail. Thanks for mentioning them to me and to all the folks who are reading the comments.

      Thank you for your willingness to talk about your experience.
      God bless, Maggie

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  16. Maggie, great post. It says a lot about your friendship, and your heart, that you recognize these little details. Not everyone does, or even can.

    As a breast cancer survivor, I sat on the other side during those awful days of treatment. I watched my friends and loved ones struggle to know what to do and say. I watched some people back away, and I couldn't blame them. Cancer is scary. Emotionally, my advice to those who find a loved one facing this disease is to remember that though the person is sick, they are still alive. So much of your friend's day is focused on illness, so don't be afraid to laugh, and cry with them. Be yourself, and let them be themselves.

    As for those physical offerings, meals mean so much to a person who could care less about food, but knows their family needs to eat. And, a good friend brought me a cuddly soft blanket my first day of chemo. I used it every day through seven months of treatment. That blanket was the sweetest gift, I never knew I needed. Just a thought.

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    1. Mackenzie,

      Thank you so much for sharing. It means a lot to hear from the other side of the fence. So many folks are well-intentioned but are paralyzed with fear, thinking "what if I don't say the right thing?" Your comment goes to show that cancer victims want to be treated as people.

      How nice to have received a cuddly, soft blanket. I'm very into soft blankets, so I know how much you appreciated that loving touch.

      Blankets enfold us in a friend's love.
      Maggie

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  17. Thank you for this, Maggie. I am bookmarking this blog and plan to share it with many friends. One thing in life is certain, we will all know someone with cancer, and your blog can make our interactions with them (or them with us) much better.

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    1. Lynne,

      What a sweet and wonderful compliment to bookmark this blog post. I'm glad I thought to share my list.

      My friend has now gone through a week and a half of radiation. It's unclear if he'll need chemo, but we are all thinking positively and praying for a good outcome, whatever the treatment needed.

      Blessings to you, Lynne. Maggie

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