The best do’s – and a big don’t – for friends of cancer/chemo patient

If you wonder what you can do for someone in my situation or in a similar one, here’s my personal advice for you, gathered from experience and written down in gratitude.  

A close and dear friend of mine recently reminded me of the following paradigm; focusing on and enhancing the positive things in your life, rather than negative things, will in itself heighten your quality of life and make you happier. It may seem self evident, but nonetheless it can be challenging to practice in real life. It is as though the negative experiences take up more space in the mind. Undoubtedly I could choose to see my own situation as more negative than positive at the moment, but I don’t think that will bring anything good to the table. 

The most challenging chemo session so far. Ice gloves on hands and feet for 1,5 hour in an attempt to avoid further nerve damage.
The more I get into this treatment, the more it becomes a necessity to insist on focusing on good things indeed. Being very close to the end of chemotherapy doesn’t necessarily make it easier to receive the treatment to be honest. Many times I feel like running away when time is up for my next special infusion of poison, knowing that it will deteriorate my body and mind once more – bringing me back to square one. But when I flip the coin and see things in a positive light instead, I know there are so many things, people and experiences I’m grateful for – that have made a big difference in my life and have been the key to me actually thriving and enjoying myself. This despite all the crap I’ve been handed lately. 

Below I’ve put down the categories of things and interactions done by people around me that made an impact on my life:

  • Do! keep asking. This is the most valuable advice I can give. As a patient you might not have enough energy to keep a relationship running on your own. It quickly becomes difficult to reach out, you don’t want to be a burden to anyone. There are two handful of friends that have been so caring, attentive and sweet to me in this hard period. They have kept writing me and asking how I am; given me a shoulder to cry on and talked to me whenever I needed it the most. 
  • Do! keep pushing. When you’re ill you might have a tendency to cut off all activities; basically you just want to run and hide until it’s all over again. If you want to be a great friend, keep suggesting stuff you can do together, maybe the patient says yes at some point. Be supportive, allow last minute cancellations and say that you have no expectations to performance. One of the best things have been when friends have told me that I don’t have to do anything but be there, they just want to be around me. That takes off pressure to perform and have made me relax and actually enjoy myself at times where I thought I was too tired to go outside my door.
  • Do! be specific. When following the above advice, try to be specific about what these activities could be. 
    Love them chemo dates
    Too many choices, or even worse, making the patient come up with ideas is probably going to be too big a task. Leaving inquiries open could just add to stress of the patient instead of being something nice to look forward to. Can I join you for chemotherapy in the near future, is a great and specific question that is easy to answer. Arranging things specially for the patient is very considerate, but there’s still a great chance things could get cancelled, never take that personally. Just try again at another time. 
  • Do! listen more, talk less. Especially when you don’t know what to say. It can be really hard to talk to a cancer or chemo patient if you have never been in their shoes. That’s perfectly OK, you can just say that. The best help has been when people have been honest and said that they don’t know what I’m going through, but they want to listen to me if I need to talk about it.
  • Do! cook, serve, bring food. 
    Midsommarfirande!
    Nothing says I love you like food and there is nothing better than good treats to munch on when you’re having a bad time. Offer to cook or bring take away so that there is both food and company. I’ve been so lucky to be extremely well fed during the last six months and it has increased my well-being immensely. 
  • Do! make offers out of the blue. If you feel like you want to offer help in any form, just do it. No matter how little you know the person or how crazy the idea is. There have been a surprising amount of friends that have contacted me to offer help and all sorts of other things. Some are close and some are not, but so many have reached out to me during the last six months, that I’m lost for words. This is a beautiful way of expressing your compassion. 
  • Do! write a few lines. Words are for free, but they are very precious to the recipient.
    Few words, big impact
    A small sentence can make someone’s day. All the online friends, new and old ones, that have been writing me encouraging and loving words; it has really meant the world to me and it has sometimes kept me happy in the darkest hours; to feel that I’m not alone after all. I guess it can seem like such a small thing to comment online, but I have read every single comment and enjoyed it.
  • Do! give compliments. But only if you mean it of course… The possibilities are endless. You’re doing a good job. You’re great at taking pictures. You look great today. I love your hat. Whatever it may be, a compliment just makes the day a little better. For every time someone told me I look fresh and far from ill I’ve felt ten times better already. If someone told me they liked what I was writing it would light up my day. 
  • Don’t! give advice on treatments! Just don’t. Ever. There are already professional help in guiding the patient in what to do. They never want your advice without asking for it. So if they don’t ask, you’re keeping your mouth shut on this topic.

    I hope that this little list have shed some light on what you can do to make a difference. And if you’re already doing it, it’s you I’m thanking! 

    3 thoughts on “The best do’s – and a big don’t – for friends of cancer/chemo patient”

    1. It’s a very good list – especially the last one. I was told several times be well-meaning people that the most important thing was to focus on posutive thinking. If it was only that simple to cure cancer . . .
      Good luck with the last treatment. 😊

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    2. en mere stor “don’t” er når folk begynder at fortælle om dem de kendte der døde af brystkræft. En sagde endda at brystkræft virkelig var noget l… og man endte altid med at dø af det.. Sådanne personlige holdninger og tilfælde hvor afslutningen ikke har været positiv er virkelig “no go”. Man skulle tro at det var indelysende, men det er det desværre ikke. Fik konstateret brystkræft 28/8-16 og har ikke tal på hvor mange gange jeg har måtte lytte til folk som begynder at fortælle om dem de har mistet til sygdommen 😦

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    3. Trine,

      Thank you for this list! I am 15 days post op my double mastectomy and friends are coming out of the woodwork and it means so much to me!! I have been writing this tiny little blog about my Weight Watcher life, walking, eating healthy and doing Yoga for about six years. Now I’m blogging about my entire cancer experience too, so the blog has taken a turn. I was seeking support when I found you. I find you to be amazing, brave, interesting, friendly, honest, strong and such an inspiration. I live a pretty conservative lifestyle in my real life, (in my head, I want to die my hair, play in a rock band, paint on large canvas and have 10 tattoos) but when I find someone that seems to live life in the way that it appears that you do, I am always attracted to them and want to know more. That sounded weird, but basically, I think you’re cool. Anyhow, (I go off track in conversations ALL the time!) I will be having reconstructive surgery but have no desire for implants. I considered no reconstructive surgery and while researching it, I found you! I instead decided to have DIEP Flap (my belly fat becomes my boobs!) in December, but just coming out of my mastectomy has been my first reality of “I have CANCER!”. I have known for about 7 weeks. I found it early and had no radiation or chemo prior to surgery, and am still waiting to hear if I will have chemo or not. Our experiences are of course very different, but I have been following your post on here and on IG for a couple of weeks and I just wanted to say Thank you for sharing. I will be sharing this post on my blog with a link to it so friends and family can not only meet you too, but have a better idea of the do’s and don’t’s.

      Thinking of you each day!

      Julie

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