I read somewhere that if you really break it down, there are only two emotions that consume the world and all its living beings. These two emotions are like the God and Goddess of which all other feelings, motives and acts stem from: love and fear. If this is the case, I am filled to the rim with both of these, overflowing and with plenty to share with the world and still have enough to have my cup overflow, for good and for bad.
I've referred to cancer as NOT being a journey or adventure or some fun amusement park ride. It is real, gritty and butt-kicking hurtful. But perhaps, on the good days, it reminds me that it's given me more of these two emotions: love and fear. You can't have the good without the bad. For all of the bad days it has given me, it has also given me some pretty darn good ones and reminded me that a simple act of kindness can change one's day and outlook on life.
The fact is, cancer is a b****. Even the most optimistic person, when they let their guard down and stop trying to make everyone else feel optimistic, will tell you. It sucks, plain and simple. So here's my top five suggestions on how you can help your friend, loved one, family member etc. feel more love than fear.
1. Show up. This can be done in many ways, especially with technology today. Send a text, an email, a Facebook message. Hell, if you are really brave, call the person. Tell them you are thinking of them. Tell them you are praying for them. Tell them if they need a punching bag, punch away. Do they need company to a doctor's appointment or a scan or treatment? Tell them they are not alone in their diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Ask them when their next appointment is. Show up any way you can.
2. Help the family. Cancer takes a good full year of doctor's appointments, surgeries, treatment, follow up, recovery, bloodwork, scans, you name it. Managing this for myself sometimes feels like an additional part-time job on top of a full-time job. The best thing people did for me is take care of my family. They dropped off meals for my kids or gift cards for take out. Just pick a meal or a restaurant and bring it to your friend/family member/etc. Don't ask what you can bring. Just bring something easy. There was nothing more helpful to me than this. I was so relieved to know that my kids and husband were being fed. I've never been so amazed and grateful to the people who did this. It allowed me to focus on getting well, knowing my family was all set. They also took care of carpool rides, various practices and games, school, etc. I could focus on what I was suppose to.
3. Practice empathy. Try to imagine what it's like to be diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. If you don't know what that's like, then you probably don't get the emotions that come with this. You've never sat in an oncologist's office receiving the grim statistics. In fact, we probably kept them from you, because sometimes it's just easier to bear the brunt of the burden. If we are having a blah day, don't take it personally, or for god sakes, speak up and ask. We will probably tell you, “Just having a bad day with too many fears in my head. But thanks for asking.” Your asking will show us that though you probably have no idea what it's like, you are trying to understand and show some empathy in an otherwise lonely and difficult road.
4. Treat us equally. Listen, just because we are going through treatment, it doesn't mean we don't deserve to be treated like anyone else. Did we do something that hurt you or ticked you off? We are still people, capable of making mistakes and capable of handling a confrontation if we did hurt you. Cancer did not suddenly give us the ability to read minds and fortunes. Our head's and plates are definitely filled with more things than the average, so please speak up or forever hold your peace. And while you are at it, please complain about the terrible bangs your hairdresser gave you or the fact that you ruined your favorite new jeans. This will make us feel better. Seriously, you probably don't want to talk about all the heavy things that cancer brings up, nor do we! Bring on the Hollywood gossip or the latest small town pillar talk, we will be grateful to have the conversation load lightened.
5. Love us. With this whole s****y “journey,” we often are left with feelings of inadequacy. Our bodies betrayed us. We are insecure over scars, bald heads and swollen wounds. We wonder how anyone could find us loveable again when we are struggling to love the new version of ourselves. We struggle with maintaining a light and fluffy, easy, breezy rose-tinted glasses view on life because we have clawed our way back from the dark side. Love us anyway, when we are insecure and maybe even dark. Maybe we just need a reminder that there is more love in the world than fear and if we promote the light of love, we can light up any moment of fear and darkness.
As difficult as it is to be a cancer "fighter,” it is also not easy being a friend to someone who is going through such a serious and tumultuous diagnosis, treatment and recovery. We know that. And we will love you in your moments of love and fear as well.
There are a couple of really good books on this topic that your readers may want to find. Help Me Live: 20 things people with cancer want you to know by Lori Hope (Celestial Arts, 2005) and Cancer Etiquette: What to say, what to do when someone you know or love has cancer by Rosanne Kalick (Lion Books, 2005). I encourage newly diagnosed clients to have a canned description of what they do and do not want to hear or have done by otherwise well-intentioned friends. It's the best way to try to avoid those few but long-remembered irritating things that most cancer patients have experienced.
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