Win some, lose some … Friends.
Yes, during cancer we often find out “who our real friends are”. It’s sad really. For me it was the people at work that really disappointed me. Oh, I got a couple of calls, but at the heart of those calls was the need to know “when I was coming back” … it wasn’t about how I was holding up. I was told during one call, that if I didn’t return soon, my job was in jeopardy of being given to a new hire. I certainly did not want to lose my job. I love what I do. So, I begged and pleaded with my oncologist to release me EARLY. Reluctantly, he did … but with a lot of stipulations. I worked a couple of hours (a couple of days a week) and increased hours as I was able to tolerate it. I, essentially, put my job ahead of my health. I didn’t feel like a valued employee, I just felt like a warm” body, regardless of sickness, there to do a job. Most people seemed indifferent to my return. Almost like they were afraid they’d “catch” it. There were a few “how are you?” questions and a few “you look good” comments. I kind of felt like it really didn’t matter that I had been gone and it didn’t matter that I was back. The reality was, they were being polite. They acted like they thought they were “supposed” to act. At least that was the case for most of them. And it’s not like I expected some ridiculous cult following, it’s just that I was so proud of myself for getting through it …… I guess I hoped that someone would share my excitement. And this isn’t a pity party for myself, this is simply the way it was. Happily, there were exceptions ….. Dave was sincerely concerned about me and was happy I was back. Mark & Zach seemed genuinely glad to see me. Tracy and Linda had been completely supportive and uplifting throughout my sickness. They welcomed me and were truly happy that I was doing as well as I was. Those are real friends. There were lessons to be learned. I wondered how I would’ve reacted if had I been in their shoes.
In the midst of my fight I didn’t see all of this, but in retrospect, I learned a lot. And that’s what prompted this article. I came to realize why some people reacted the way they did.
Cancer is tough on relationships. I was fortunate to have a strong support system of family and close friends, but many people don’t have that. Some of my friends (like my friend Robbie) went far beyond any expectations that I may’ve unconsciously had. When I was diagnosed, as I’m sure is the case for many others, my focus was on my health and not on how friends would react. Some people treated me as though I had the plague. Others were painfully indifferent. I learned that sometimes people often don’t know what to say, so in fear of saying the “wrong thing”, they say nothing … they will disappear. So they don’t have to see you. So they don’t have to see IT. One thing became clear … the principle of “fight or flight” applied to more than me, the patient .
I want to express my deepest gratitude to my amazing support system. I don’t know how I would’ve done it without your presence, your encouragement, your patience, your prayers and your love. You guys rock.
Now …………. If someone you know has battled the cancer beast, below are some suggestions for consideration. These are different ways to show someone who you care so they will know that you care.
- Send a card
For me, cards were very appreciated. They were a tangible sign that I was being thought about and supported. Treatments sucked the life out of me and I wasn’t physically able to talk on the phone day after day telling the same “how I’m feeling” story repeatedly. Two of my coworkers, Linda and Tracy sent cards several times a week. What an encouragement they were! I also received cards from a couple of people that I would never have expected that they’d be thinking about me. Those were not only a surprise, but they really touched my heart. To know that acquaintances took the time to pray for me and to send me a card, well … I was overwhelmed with their kindness. Rose J. and Nancy K. are the two that come to mind. Their thoughtfulness meant so much to me because of the many other superficial friends that simply gave a patronizing “hi, how are you?”. Also, it was nice to read the handwritten sentiments. Seeing the words “I admire your strength as you are fighting this disease” was heart warming. It meant something.
- Fix a meal
Melinda prepared an entire meal and delivered it to my home. Wow. After a busy and exhausting day of treatments, this was a wonderful surprise and it was not only delicious but also much appreciated. I’m thinking that crock pot meals would be wonderful. Freezer meals would be an idea too. Maybe make a casserole in a disposable dish and freeze it. The patient (when taking chemo) may not have much of an appetite, but a neighbor, friend or caregiver could simply reheat the meal on a day when it’s most needed.
- Send something handmade
I love giving AND receiving hand-made gifts. Just knowing that someone took the time out of their busy schedule to make something just for me, it’s awesome. I received several wonderful surprises that I’ll keep forever. Kathy made me a teddy bear in “my football team’s” colors. The women at my church knitted me a prayer shawl. And a dear friend from high school, Nancy, made me a cancer-journey scrapbook. All I need to do is insert photos. I don’t know if men would appreciate the scrapbook the way I did, but oh well, I love it and wanted to share that with you. 🙂
- Put together a chemo care package
My best friend, Donna, not only held my hand through my first chemo, she put together an incredibly thoughtful gift bag … a chemo survival pack. Inside the colorful bag was a fuzzy blanket (chemo makes you feel cold), teddy bear (always someone to hug), a paperback book (a nice distraction to help pass the time), lotion (for dry skin), whimsical socks (a fun way to keep my piggies warm), ginger tea (for an upset tummy), hard candies (for a sore mouth), tissues (to dry any tears), flavored toothpaste (if I developed the metallic taste in my mouth — and I did) and a framed photo of my beautiful granddaughter (to make me smile). Chemo survival packs don’t have to be extravagant. It’s truly the thoughtfulness that will make such a difference in a patient’s day.
- Just keep in touch
Cancer is not contagious. You won’t catch it. It’s okay to just say to the patient that you don’t know what to say. It’s okay to just listen. It’s okay to feel awkward. But keep in touch. Letting the patient know that they’re being thought about or prayed for can really brighten up an otherwise tough day. Be sincere in all that you say or do. Ask when would be a good time to visit. Leave it up to the patient.
- Organize an effort to “honor” the patient.
My sister, Fran, created an awareness project. She made lanyards, key rings, and fobs out of survival cord (get it, ‘SURVIVE’al cord). She called her project “Lolly’s (my nickname) Lanyards” and donated them to the Cancer Center where I received treatment. She had informational scrolls that were given out with each item. It was awesome.
Another thing that could be done, is to walk in a Relay For Life event in honor of your friend or family member. You don’t have to have a huge team, just walk. Be there as a representative for someone you care about. It’s a way to show that you support a patient or survivor. Even if your friend is in remission, they survived … and that’s worth honoring.
Wearing cancer awareness bracelets to show your support is also a nice way to encourage a patient.
- Ask how you can help
It might be easier for someone to accept help if you offer help. Sometimes a patient doesn’t want to ASK or to burden others. You might want to offer to drive him/her to an appointment, help with gas money, babysit or dog-sit, ask if you can do some household chores for them, offer to get their mail, pickup groceries/prescriptions, or provide emotional support while wig shopping. Whatever you do, do it with no strings attached.
- Organize a benefit to raise money to help with the patient’s mountain of medical expenses
A chicken roast or spaghetti dinner are both excellent fund-raisers. Elimination dinners are always a hit. There are even online sites that allow you to set up a page for online donations. Work places may have a program in place that when the patient has exhausted all of their available sick days or vacation time, they’ll petition other employees for time donations. This helps to give an income when benefits run out.
- Get friends involved
If your cancer patient or loved one is a female, consider hosting a “scarf party”. Friends could gift beautiful scarves to give as head coverings or to accessorize otherwise plain head coverings.
- Examples of things NOT TO SAY:
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Please don’t say that you understand if you haven’t been there. Cancer is a ruthless beast. Chemo and radiation is a living hell. Don’t pretend that you “get it” if you haven’t actually gone through it.
Please don’t tell the patient about Uncle Joe that suffered through horrible chemo or radiation side-effects or Aunt Millie that died from the same cancer. While you may feel like sharing that information will help the patient to not feel alone, most people will find it depressing.
Please don’t say, “well, I guess if you have to have cancer, that’s a GOOD one to have”. Cancer is cancer. It kills. There is no “good” cancer.
Please don’t say “call me if you need anything” if you don’t truly mean that. Patients need friends they can count on. They want to know that you will be there if you offer.
Please don’t tell the patient to quit complaining. We have good days and bad days. Bad days are exhausting and overwhelming. Sometimes we need to verbalize it. Sometimes we just need to cry. And, even when the cancer is GONE, it can take up to 2 years or more to regain the strength we once had. I’ve even heard the comment, “what’s her problem? she doesn’t have cancer any more!“. No, I don’t. But the strength-sapping treatments take their toll. Please keep in mind that we’re not lazy. We’re not looking for sympathy. We’re just TIRED. And sometimes it takes a while to fully recover. Be patient, we’ll get there. 🙂
So, there you have it. My thoughts on friendships throughout the trials of cancer and cancer treatments. You’ll win some and lose some.
A personal note of special thanks to my biggest supporters:
Paul Mauzy Eric Davis Craig Davis
Donna Baldwin Robbie Jordan Beth Martin
Fran Ellis Karen Hixenbaugh Kathryn Smith
Rebecca Zick Barb & Mont Miller Danny DeNoon
djjjf My group of 6 cheerleaders ……. there for the long haul.
My sister, BFF, granddaughter & 2 sons. My husband took the photo.
Strength from family …
- Sisterly support.
“Don’t be afraid; Just believe” — Mark 5:36b