A Post About Supporting Someone Through Cancer

This is a post my dear friend Shakenfruit wrote. The advice she gives is dead on and I thought many of you might find it helpful. If you want to check out her blog go to www.shakenfruit.blogspot.com

If I introduced you to my friend Meaghan, you would turn to me and say very seriously: that chick is a bad ass. Then you would scheme about enticing her out for a night on the town. But along with all this Meaghan fabulousness, there are tiny bummers, for example, Meaghan's friends function largely on a need to know basis. She was like this before she was diagnosed with Stage 3 fucking B cervical cancer.

Before the cancer, if you needed to know she smoked the LSAT and was attending law school in the fall, you were told. We are all dying to be on Meaghan's 'needs to know' list. It is a small special coven of pink things, scathing intelligence and wise counsel. Some how, I have managed to weasel my way into her heart.

Meaghan is going to write a book about her diagnosis and treatment, and she asked if I, ShakenFruit, would consider contributing a small piece about being her friend throughout the ordeal. I'm not sure I have anything useful to offer, but I would love to help anyone who hates living on a 'need to know basis' in general, much less when our darling, irreverent, full-of-life friend turns into skin and bones before our eyes.

When Meaghan was finally diagnosed properly (you'll read about the HORROR of not being properly diagnosed when she writes her book) we were all in shock. The shit Meaghan went through is incomprehensible. Get that Lifetime Channel, made for TV "Fighting For My Life" special starring some bald, Z list actress out of your head, because what happened was WAY WORSE.

If your friend is anything like Meaghan, I hope these thoughts help:

Show Up. Unless you Are Asked Not To Show Up
Sometimes Meaghan was alert and awake and feeling up to having visitors, and I was just so desperate to see her and have her know how much I love her, that I would forget to be nice when I got a call that she wasn't feeling up to a visit. How Meaghan was feeling could change on a dime, and because her symptoms involved feeling very physically uncomfortable and enduring very personal side effects, sometimes she just didn't want anyone around. That's her prerogative. She's the one with cancer. I regret that I didn't suck it up sooner (like, IMMEDIATELY) and put a card in the mail, or search out something funny to send, like a Margaret Cho video.

Now is the time to lavish your friend and her family with wholesome goodies
, funny cards, funny e-mailed videos (if she is feeling up to looking at a computer screen. Seriously, sometimes looking at a computer screen would make Meaghan sick, or was too much effort, or she was too tired, etc....) or just leave a message for her family sending your love and white light. If you are able to visit, bring something: a knitting project, a book, a long report you need to slog through. Sometimes the patient needs to nap, or needs to be in the bathroom for a long time. Bringing something with you shows you don't expect to be entertained.

Don't Ask a Million Fucking Questions. Or Maybe Ask a Million Fucking Questions.
Of course you want to know everything. This is your shiny darling friend. The one who got you through that hellacious relationship, saw you out the other side and (most amazing to you) DOESN'T JUDGE YOU FOR IT. You want to know everything about what she's going through, except, you can't, and honestly, unless you are her primary care provider? It's not your job.

It is your job to tell funny stories about life outside cancer
, and listen to her every word, and not open your mouth before she's through. Sometimes it is your job to get her ginger ale while nausea passes. But it is not your job to understand every medical thing that is happening to her. In fact, if you can ask someone else who knows, like her primary care giver? Ask them instead, because she is fucking sick of answering everyone's questions.

Now, Meaghan received care at the most respected cancer treatment hospital in our country's questionable health care system. The best. So I had no reason to ACTUALLY be concerned about the care she received. They had it down. Cold. It was ugly and brutal and painful, but it was the best care she could receive. Your friend might not have the same luxury (if that is AT ALL the appropriate word) when it comes to her treatment.

The million questions I swallowed rose to my lips because I thought I needed to know. I didn't. But maybe you do. If you need to ask questions because the quality of your friend's care is in doubt, start by asking questions very, very gently. And don't ask your friend. She is too busy STAYING ALIVE to take copious notes and feel grateful for your interest.


Obsessedwithlife said...

Hi there-thanks so much for stopping by my blog and adding it to your list of blogs! Yours looks great :). I will add it to my Google Reader list of blogs!

I definitely understand the cervical cancer thing-I had a scare once and I have met and touched base a few times with Tamika-have you heard of her organization-http://www.tamikaandfriends.org/?

Keep in touch & best of luck!

Unknown said...

This post really hit home so to speak- as a daughter whose mother lost the long battle with cancer, I know how to, and how not to show your support to those who are struggling with the disease and the treatment. I found that people react to those who are ill by how it effects them and also think about what they would want if in the same situation, people also rationalize why this would never happen to them and therefore feel the need to blame the victim and name all the reasons why they could be sick. For my mother I witnessed friends and even close family thinking up reasons (by her hospital bed) that she had ovarian cancer, one really good one was because she grew up in a coal camp and the toxins had taken effect now- it was almost as if they could name it, and they had never grew up in a coal camp they were safe. All I can say about support is think about the person who is sick not yourself and you will end up really being there for them

ShakenFruit said...

Oh Meaghan! I'm honored to have a post on your site!


adeybabe said...

Hi, I'm the new kid on the block.I'm not the one diagnosed with cancer but my mom was.Last week she was told she had squamous cell carcinoma. She hopped on an airplane to come down and attend my son's wedding.For this I am grateful and it was a beautiful celebration that we are all glad she was apart of.But it now is becoming obvious she is under the delusion that if she does nothing ,maybe it will go away.We are trying to set up appt. and get info and she just sits there reading her novels.Not novels about cancer survival and cures and treatments.She is trying to escape the reality. Being the good daughters we are,we are trying to stir her to action and ask questions and gather info,but we are very frustrated.Can we fight the battle for her? I can appreciate the shock and time needed to absorb the words"You have cancer" but time is critical to winnign this fight,is it not? Has anyone ever had a similiar experience? We love our mom ... ade of spades