It's natural for people to ask what they can do when they find out someone's going through a health issue. What I've discovered - both as a friend to people in treatment and as someone who's in treatment - is that the best thing to do is actually LISTEN to what the person says when you ask them. What worked for someone else may not work for your current friend in need. What's great for one may be highly inappropriate or even offensive to another.
Here are my "do" and "don't" lists. They'll probably grow and change over time, so feel free to stop by often.
- Ask me how I'm doing today.
- Offer to meet up with me for coffee (though I might just drink water, depending ...), though please also keep in mind that I might have to reschedule, if I don't feel my best on the day we planned to meet.
- Talk about stuff other than my treatment. This is just one part of my life. I'm glad that you check in, but frankly, I can get a little weary of talking about how I feel. How are you????
- Keep a good sense of humor about it - that's my strategy, and you can help.
- Share stories of breast cancer survivors with me - but only briefly. One of the most helpful things to me was hearing from a nurse navigator that breast cancer is "incredibly common" and 'incredibly curable.' Another friend mentioned knowing three or four women who are survivors - people I've met. I didn't need to hear their treatment or horror stories - just knowing they'd gone through it and had come through intact was enough for me.
- Be yourself! There's no need for hushed tones or avoidance.
- Be patient. I love check-ins, but I may not get back to you immediately. If it takes a day or two, don't get worried.
- Make assumptions of how to treat me, what to say, or what I'm feeling. Just ask. And it's okay to tell me you don't know what to say. I'll never be angry if you make the effort to understand what would work best for me.
- Treat this like it's a tragedy. I'm not looking at it that way. It's something to be gotten through, and the prognosis is extremely good. The irony is that they have to make me feel bad for a while in order for me to feel good again.
- Categorize what I'm going through as an "ordeal" or a "journey" or a "battle." That only feeds on any negative feelings I may be having and not sharing. It doesn't help me feel brave or validated.
- Treat me like I'm a hero or brave or extraordinary. I got caught in a sucky situation not of my choosing, that's all. And there are tons of people dealing with worse things than I am. I'm just living the life I have with the cards I'm dealt. You'd do the same thing.
- Include me in any cancer e-mail chains, Facebook memes on cancer, or anything else of a sappy "inspirational" tone. That may be good for some folks. Not for me.
- Give or send me anything with pink ribbons or themed "pink." A friend mentioned that this is called "pinkwashing," and my belief is that many corporations just use the breast cancer awareness meme for business gain. (Have you seen the pink breast cancer awareness trash cans?) I'd much rather that you send me a fun card or take me out for coffee (or whatever doesn't taste metallic that day!).
- Go into detail on a friend's/family member's cancer journey. Sometimes hearing about someone else's trials only brings more worries about what's to come for me.