Talking To Your Friend With Cancer

I’m reposting a post I wrote about what to say to a friend with cancer, this being Awareness month.

Over the past year, several friends have asked me how to talk to and help friends of theirs with a new cancer diagnosis. I generated this list from my experience with breast cancer, but it applies to any cancer, because cancer likes to become other cancer. Fucking cancer. Check out what I posted in the past about cancer here. Following is what I learned since then. Also, I’m trying out new phrases to describe people with cancer. Let me know your favorite.

Rule Number One: Don’t say, “Let me know if you need anything.” The cancery person doesn’t know what they need, and are usually loathe to ask for it. We know you don’t know what else to say and we’re not upset with you, but figure it out. Instead of asking what you can do, tell him/her what you’d like to do and then get her approval. Pick a task you think would be helpful, and just do it or tell your cancer-riddled friend that you’d like to pick up her children on Tuesday for a few hours. Tell him you’d like to clean his kitchen (because doesn’t that sound fun?) and ask what day works best. Walk her dog. Don’t put additional pressure on your friend to figure out how you can help. You figure it out, then do it.

Communication is key. Talking to your friend with cancer. Ask the formerly non-cancered person how often you can check in. Direct communication is beautiful. Follow the cancer person’s lead and recognize that the answer may change daily. Ask how he feels and tell him how much it sucks. Listen, and don’t interject your own near-brush experiences with cancer or tell her you know how she feels unless you really do. It’s annoying. Right now the focus is on your tumor-person’s cancer, not Uncle Riley, who lost both his balls to cancer and went on to a rowing scholarship. We don’t give a shit about Uncle Riley. We’re scared we’re going to orphan our children.

Food for thought. They may not feel like eating, but their family probably will. Set up a meal train for the cancer-tastic person so that friends can coordinate meals to their house. A friend did this for me and it was fantastic:

Of Course They’re Fake. The Real Ones Tried To Kill Me!

Gifted. I wish I was one of those un-greedy people who told folks not to bring gifts to my children for their birthday party. I like gifts. Give me lots of gifts, expensive ones you can’t afford. For better or worse, gifts are a method of showing love and support in our culture. Expensive gifts aren’t required, but welcome! My husband gave me a Welcome To Cancer iPad. It is currently at the iPad repair hospital because one of my children murdered it. Fuckers. Don’t 
buy an iPad unless you’re sleeping with the tumored person. One friend sent things she liked periodically: her 
favorite lotion, earrings, a book. Another friend sent pajamas and 
slippers. I’m still living in the robes another friend sent. Yet another
 friend scheduled a night to go out for cocktails/dinner AND set up and paid for 
my sitter. I totally wanted to sleep with her after that. Couple friends sent
 their house cleaner to my house. Many friends just came over to be with me. My 
humblest apologies if my friends read this and I didn’t mention the thing you
 did for me. You all did a lot. You still do a lot, and I am forever grateful
 and love you big time.

Keep Track. Diary cancer bitch’s medical appointments and check in before or after. Know when her chemo &/or radiation treatments are. Ask about test results. Ask what day you can take her to an appointment. Research the terms she uses and be able to talk about it, or give her information she didn’t know (that won’t terrify her. If you figure out he has two months to live according to WebMD and probably also a case of The Clap, you can keep that information to yourself).

Do her homework. Investigate what services for people fortunate enough to get cancer are available so she doesn’t have to. The number of support services is dizzying and can become the tyranny of choices. I signed up with Cleaning For A Reason and got four hours of free house cleaning. I would have been totally miffed if I’d missed out on someone else cleaning my toilet and I didn’t know about it. My YMCA has a Livestrong program for the tumor-tastic folks.

Family Matters. Do things for the cancer-ific person’s immediate family, especially her kids. Nothing touches my heart so much as someone doing something nice for my children. Talk to his kids about how they feel. Take her husband to see a movie, or send him porn. Ask him how he feels. Avoid words like “death”, “projectile vomiting”, “uncontrollable flatulence” and “terminal”. Find age-appropriate books to give kids explaining cancer, like one of my friends did. My favorites for younger children:

-The Kissing Hand by AudreyPenn

-Our Mom Has Cancer byAbigail & Adrienne Ackermann.

Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff & Harriet May Savitz

Hook-up. See if she has other cancer-struck persons she can talk to. Former cancer patients came out of the woodwork after I “came out” with cancer. I amassed a list of a dozen women, some of whom I didn’t know but were friends of friends. I compiled an email list and we checked on each other during treatments and asked questions. This was a nice way to get support with women who were just one step removed from me. Cancer is a very bonding experience and the former cancer patients embrace the newly-diagnosed like nobody’s business.

Put the Can! in Cancer. You know your cancer person best. I deal with life through humor. I really appreciated the people who just looked me in the eye and said, “So, how’s the cancer?” or “Another day with cancer is another day you aren’t dead.” I like sweet sentiments. Please avoid uttering any unctuous platitudes like, “This is God’s plan” or “Everything happens for a reason” unless you are trying to give your formerly-not-familiar-with-cancer friend a face to punch to work out her pent-up angst.

Here Endeth the Lesson.