My life seems to be divided into two very distinguished parts; pre diagnosis and post diagnosis. It’s as though they are entirely separate lives that have been lived by just one person, a split screen, then and now, the past and present. When something like this enters your life, you find your true friends and support system pretty quickly.
The diagnosis of the patient may be an initial shock, not just to the individual affected, but the people they share their lives with as well. The early days are usually high on the spectrum of support and friends bossing up, then it slowly slips away like yesterday’s trend. People move on with their lives after being gobsmacked by the news and ghosts begin to appear as friends, challenging your most coveted relationships.
You slowly stop going to parties because you’re sick in bed, having to cancel on dinner plans or you just plain forget how to talk to people because you’re self conscious that everyone pities you. Thus, friendships start to splinter. Some have their own reasons for dipping out, and contrary to that, you realize and form relationships and bonds with people you would have never expected. And for each friend I lost, I gained others who wanted to stand by my side and that is a beautiful thing.
When you are so far beneath the floor boards, experiencing things you’d never imagined can be a very personal journey. After my last blog, my friend and lovely supporter, Andrea asked a question that I had never been asked before, and thought it to be very thoughtful. She simply asked what are some of the right things to say or do for a friend with cancer. As soon as I read it, it put me in the perspective of those who are a part of this journey with me. I suppose if I wasn’t myself, in my situation, I might not know the right things to say or do, either.
Truthfully, there is not a rule book on how one should react to a friend or someone you love having cancer, nor is there a right way one should show their comradeship. Do’s and do nots, say and say nots can certainly be a thin line.
Personally, I have been very fortunate to have such a strong unit of people surrounding me from all over the globe —friends, family, strangers. I also choose to share my cancer experience with the public, therefore there aren’t many things that are off limits in terms of what to say and/or ask. Firstly, start by assessing your relationship with the cancer patient. Every relationship is different and consider your unique dynamic.
Sometimes it’s much more awkward for the person with cancer because we understand people don’t always know what to say. The best way to avoid any form of awkwardness is to treat the person the same. So much of our identity has been stripped away and we want to cling to normalcy as much as we can. Treating us like you always have is a gift beyond measure.
Uncertainty of the future tends to run through the veins of a person with cancer, with a direct connection to the brain. This resulting in many sleepless nights spent overthinking. That said, no one is able to reassure you that everything will be okay. But, hearing from a friend just to take a moment to tell you they are thinking and rooting for you, is rest assured it will result in a bright smile and swollen heart.
With this vile illness disrupting the body, one of the perspectives that has shifted for me is that I don’t want to travel my cancer journey in vein, I want to bring awareness to young adult cancer. With that, it takes the help and support of others to show that it can happen to anyone, cancer does not discriminate. If you are curious about something, anything just ask and I’ll write about it or share with you. The more you know, the greater the awareness and understanding of this disease, the less my diagnosis will be in spite. If my situation has impacted just one person and helps them in any way, shape or form, then it is all worth it.
Using humor and sharing funny things is also a great coping mechanism for a cancer patient. Laughter after all is the best medicine. It’s also a wonderful stress reliever and making light of things can allow the cancer patient to take a break from the darkness and seriousness of the situation.
Invite us anyway. Even if nine times out of ten we can’t make it, it’s nice to know we are still thought of and connected to people. And if we indeed cannot make it, please know it’s nothing personal and that we would rather be spending time with our friends or family, as opposed to laying in bed.
In most cases, cancer patients won’t tell you when they need help. It’s easy to feel like a burden to the world and being unable to do some of the most simple things can prove to be difficult. Asking the cancer patient, “how can I help?” will be ultimately appreciated. Even if we are too proud to take you up on it.
Many diagnosed patients create blogs, much like myself in and effort to keep family and friends in the loop with what is going on. If you truly want to understand what someone is going through and be there for them, it starts with understanding the situation and typically it’s a more detailed version than if I were to be talking face to face. With writing I personally go into a zone, a trance of sorts. Comprehending what your friend is going through can be the most powerful way to connect for a cancer patient and it also helps from constantly repeating yourself over and over again. If you want to be on this carousel with your loved one it’s nice to be able to read all the nooks and crannies of their day to day life, whether it be a blog or sharing updates on social media. It is essentially the patient expressing and opening up to their family, friends and supporters — a version of taking the time to listen.
Lastly, and I think this goes whether you have cancer or not, the best gift you can give someone, especially someone going through cancer is your time. Even if it’s for a quick cup of coffee or tea. It’s easy to become a hermit and hideaway from the world when you don’t feel well. Yet, spending a little quality time is a great way to break away from the house, hospital or Doctors office.
I hope this gives some tips and they are helpful to better understanding what some cancer patients need from their soldiers, marching by their side. Awareness is key, questions are vital, kindness is always welcomed and time is most definitely precious. Thank you to all of those who have stuck by me since day one of this strange new life. The bonds and connections that humans have the capability of is by far the most magical source of strength.