There are numerous articles already out there about this topic. Everyone has a different experience though, and I figured while I had the energy, I would put my two cents in. So, there’s someone in your life has cancer and you want to support them. What can you do? Here are some helpful tips, from my perspective.
1.Patience is Key
When a person is diagnosed with cancer, there are a lot of things that happen. Suddenly, cancer is like having a full time job. There are so many appointments to go to. Many things need to happen to prepare for treatment, surgery, or radiation. There might be hospital stays. Everything is mentally exhausting. If the person in your life going through cancer takes awhile to respond, forgets things, or has to cancel plans, please try to be understanding! Having cancer and going through chemotherapy is a mental overload sometimes! We don’t mean to forget things, but it does happen! Treatment is exhausting too, and we can be in bed for days, especially if the treatment they are receiving is an aggressive chemo.
2. Don’t “Out” Them
Cancer is a terrifying diagnosis, especially in the beginning when there are a lot of unknowns. Some people want to wait to share their diagnosis with others when they have more information, some want to keep it private, or some may share earlier on. Every approach is okay! Never pressure the person to share when they aren’t ready. It’s an emotional conversation to share this information with others and each conversation can be draining. Sharing a diagnosis is a very vulnerable thing. I know in my experience, I waited for a few months until I was ready to publicly share. If the person in your life with cancer isn’t ready to share their diagnosis, don’t do it for them unless you have their consent. It’s a big, life altering thing. They may need more time to process and being bombarded with tons of questions from people from all parts of their lives can be really challenging and mentally exhausting.
3. We Are Still the Same Person Inside
Cancer may change the person in your life’s appearance. They may lose their hair like I did! They will probably be weaker and more tired than usual. But those are only outward things you can see. Inside, they are still the same person. They DO want to know how are you and what is going on in YOUR life. I personally told my close friends to not sugarcoat anything. I want to know it all! Tell me the good, the bad, and everything in between. I may have cancer, but I am still here to support you, listen to you vent, and talk you down off some crazy idea that we both know isn’t a good choice. Having connections with our friends and family creates normalcy in our lives. We never stop caring about the people in our lives. Please don’t desert us.
4. We Notice Your Absence
We notice right away which people in our lives stand by our side and which people stand back. For me personally, it is really telling to see who takes the time to check-in and who does not. Cancer is a heavy topic and we understand that not everyone has the capacity or desire to handle it. The conversations do not have to be all about cancer, of course. We want to have normal conversations with you too.
Please do know if you do reach out and we take a bit to respond, we aren’t actively pushing you away either! When I was in the hospital for a few days, the last thing I had the energy to do was check my phone, so sometimes, it took hours to respond to people. I spent most of my time sleeping and recovering. If there ever is a problem, I know I would personally let the person know and we would work toward a solution.
Cancer has put many connections in my life into deeper perspective. I know now who has my back and who may not. It’s been a blessing in disguise. Many people who I have spoken to going through the same thing have felt similar things.
5. Cancer Changes Your Life Forever
The experience of having cancer is so life altering. It gives you time (perhaps unwanted!) to put so many things into perspective. The person in your life going through cancer is likely to experience similar. In moments of clarity, they may begin to prioritize things and make plans, especially if they are fortunate enough to have the time to do this. I was lucky enough to be able to do this since there were significant delays in my treatment starting due to paperwork issues beyond my control.
In my experience, I was able to clean and organize my house and get rid of of things I no longer needed. I put paperwork together in case my partner needed to find it and put accounts in order. At the time, I had no idea what stage or what outcome I would have with my cancer. I planned for the worst and hoped for the best. In case I did leave this world, I certainly did not want to leave a mess behind for anyone. There’s always still more to work through. If time allows, cancer sometimes forces that person to get things in order.
There are so many ways you can be there to support the person in your life that is going through cancer. These are just a few guidelines to consider, and they are ones I have found helpful in my specific case. Cancer is life altering not only for the person going through cancer, but for their direct support system. Being there for your person can be a beautiful thing and could mean the world to them. If you don’t know how to support them, ask. It never hurts to find out how to support or if they do not need it at this time.
Do you have any questions about cancer or how to support someone in your life with cancer? Leave your questions in the comments and I will write a future blog addressing them.