I Don't Care if You Feel Like Dying, It's Not Your Turn.

A few weeks ago, a friend lost an arduous battle with cancer. Right now, I have two other friends fighting the fights of their lives. Another friend is facing challenges, and yet another is wondering what's going on with her body and if it is now betraying her.

Five years ago, I heard those three little dreaded life-changing words: "You have cancer".

While the entire medical team we were blessed with was wonderful, one of them captured the moment succinctly when he said," Your train has left the station, and you're on it for a ride that will have lots of stops and starts. Your destination is Health. And you will get there."

Another doctor talked about cancer becoming more of a chronic disease...meaning that there are now treatments and management regimes to help people diagnosed lead long, relatively normal, healthy lives. If diagnosed early (and that is a fairly critical component) many cancers can be treated, and are no longer the automatic death sentences  they once were.

No matter what the type of cancer, or the prescribed treatment, there are many people impacted by the diagnosis, including YOU ...as a husband, wife, son, daughter, cousin, uncle, aunt, friend, and or lover. And there are ways you can help make this a little, and sometimes a lot, easier when the going gets tough.

And believe me, there are times when it will be tough.

Early Days...
1. First, and foremost. Listen to what you're being told. And don't deny what you are hearing. When someone is telling you about their diagnosis, it's not about you.

2. A warming hug, and a simple "I'm here to help you, with whatever you need" statement is more important than denials, questions about the diagnosis, or dismissal as crazy. While doing that kind of stuff, you may think you're showing support and love. But you're not -you're showing your own shock and dismay. And it's not your turn. It's your turn to comfort, to have and to hold. (All the questions and validations of information will come later...all part of the train ride.)

3. Be there. Simple smiles, hugs, and genuine support. If it's within your realm, offer to help and be an advocate...attend medical meetings, take notes, ask questions..your pal with cancer is likely off in la la land, worried about surviving til the next day, and not likely to be taking in all of the information that they'll be given. Being an advocate is a tremendous help.

4. When it is right to do so...you'll know because you'll recognize that quiet moment and the unspoken question...talk about how you feel about what's happening. It's ok to say it's all quite frightening...but don't go into great detail about the fact that you're scared  to death too. Pillar of strength...not a foam noodle.

Into the Thick of It...When the Going Gets Tough
5. Little things are the important things. If you're making lots of trips to clinics or hospitals for treatments, carry along some great music and remember the ear buds. Bring  some little sweet treats. A bit of good chocolate. Some nice hand cream, whatever ...just make it small, simple, sincere and heartfelt.. tiny gestures to help ease the journey.

6. Think of incentives and ways to motivate him (or her) to focus on the treatment outcome rather than the crap they're in the middle of:
- Come in to the treatment room with half a hundred dollar bill. Say the other half is waiting at home on the fridge door (and make sure it is).
- Bring in travel brochures. Circle a few you know would be of interest...then show the tickets you've bought for the celebratory trip once treatments are over
- Talk about the best book you've ever read (or that you know would be liked) Bring it in to be read...but cut out the last chapter. It's at home on the bedside table.
Goofy stuff, yes...but they show that you care, and that their job is to get through it. It all helps, especially on those darker days. These little motivators may not be big things, but if they bring a smile, they're worth it. Think of things that he (she) considers precious, or has longed to do...start with that and  make it even more of an incentive.

Being Prepared...
7. There may come a time when it's appropriate to talk about worst case scenario...and "what if I do die?" Don't deny, and do be a good listener. Offer to help where appropriate: is the will up to date; what kind of funeral arrangements are wanted; all the tough stuff. But if you're respectful and acknowledge that death may be a  possibility then it's easier on everyone. And once all of the difficult things have been dealt with, then you can get back to the "fun" stuff (and I use the term very loosely, as I know none of this is really fun).

Life is a Terminal Illness...
8. None of us are getting out of this alive...how we help each other through threatening times, or final transition times, is proof of our humanity.


John Freeman said...

Very thoughtful. Well put.

Red said...

Excellent post. You have been there as you say these words with conviction. I saw the excessive denial and optimism just a year ago. I noticed my friend become silent as she did not need false bravado at that time. She died less than a week later but she did share with me some books I should read and I have read them.

Felicia said...

What kind and wise words. Your wisdom obviously came at a great price--thank you for sharing it.

Mary said...

All I want to do is hug you. Susan, two weeks ago I learned my old Chloe has cancer. We'll be alright.