It’s awkward, isn’t it? You find out someone you care about just got diagnosed with cancer. It’s terrifying and you want to be there for them but you don’t know what to do, say, or even how to act.
As a cancer patient myself, I know we aren’t exactly the easiest people to deal with. We forget things easily, we get stressed out, anxiety is at an all time high, and we are frightened. Cancer is traumatic. While we are literally fighting for our lives, we are simultaneously trying to maintain friendships and relationships with family, have a little bit of a life when possible, and trying to keep a sliver of normalcy in our far-from-normal worlds. As you can probably imagine, it’s a lot to handle and there’s no guidebook on how to deal with the emotional side of cancer. I’ve said things I didn’t mean and I’ve been irrational at times because of it.
That takes me to the biggest piece of advice I can give if you know someone fighting cancer: just be there. Be there for them in a way that money can’t buy. The one thing in the world that cancer patients need more than anything is emotional support.
We have so many brand new emotions and feelings running through our bodies and half of the time, we don’t even understand them ourselves. How do you deal with something that you don’t understand? I’m not sure how to answer that yet, but what I will say is we aren’t always looking for advice. Sometimes we simply just need someone to listen and care.
There have been times when I’ve tried to talk to people about some of the emotional stress I’m dealing with and it goes so very wrong. I’ve been told I’m just throwing a pity party for myself. I’ve also been told (indirectly) that I was a burden for talking about my problems when other people also have things going on in their lives. The reactions I have gotten have sometimes been things like “here we go again…” or “yeah, yeah, you’re going through a lot… we know” in a sarcastic tone. I get it and I’m sure they aren’t completely wrong, but it’s frustrating and so isolating because I don’t know how to handle it. I’ve never felt more alone in my life and I think other cancer patients would agree.
While it’s true that when one person has cancer, everyone around them also has it, everyone else has it in a very different way. Think of cancer as a big puzzle. Everyone the patient knows gets a piece of the cancer puzzle, so to speak. Coworkers get a piece, friends get a piece, family members get a few pieces and they’re all trying to figure out where their piece belongs and what to do with it. The thing is, the patient has the full puzzle to deal with and is trying to put all of those pieces together. Sticking with the puzzle analogy, dealing with all of those pieces at once is easily as overwhelming and confusing as trying to put together a 10,000 piece puzzle. I’ve never finished a puzzle that big, but now I’m being forced to try to solve it every day. Sometimes I feel like I’m finally making progress on my cancer puzzle, but then it turns out I got one of the pieces wrong and I have to restart again.
I heard this the other day and it’s so true- people will usually forget the things you said to them and sometimes they’ll forget the things you did for them, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. I’ll leave you with this final advice: Take time out of your day to make a phone call. Go visit your friends dealing with cancer (as long as you’re not sick!!). Learn how to listen without trying to solve their problems. Give them a long hug. Realize that just because you may not understand what they’re going through doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. Ask questions and make sure they’re ok, especially if you can tell something’s bothering them. Ignoring that only makes them feel like you don’t care. Have patience with them and simply just be there. They’ll appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
EDIT: I do have to say that I have many people who have been there for me emotionally. They know who they are and I appreciate you all! Also, please don’t take this as me downplaying what the friends and families of cancer patients are going through. It’s tough on everyone and I’m fully aware of that. I’m simply offering advice from my perspective that I truly feel would help everyone involved. To be fair, if anyone wants to share advice for cancer patients from a friends/family/caregivers’ perspective, I’m all ears!