Denying my friend was dying of cancer disrespected our friendship.
©oneinchpunch / Adobe Stock
When you are told your best friend has cancer – the big “C” – it may seem as if the whole world is collapsing under your feet. You must prepare yourself to understand how cancer’s arrival will likely change the lives of all those involved. Helping your loved one overcome the upheaval that this disease causes, is a battle unlike any other. I have traveled this journey with my best pal, Nicole*, and would like to share some tips I’ve learned along the way so that others don’t make the same mistakes I have made.
Your friend has cancer – get a grip
When I found out that Nicole had cancer — again — and the prognosis was grim, I wallowed in self-pity. I dwelled on all that I would lose if she left this earth. Ovarian cancer that gripped her on the first go-round had metastasized and wrapped its tentacles around her spinal column, and kidneys. Self-pity is a natural — and understandable reaction — but I had to toughen up and get a grip quickly.
Nicole has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, and the prognosis points to inevitable death. We didn’t know a time frame, but the doctors say it will eventually kill her. I had to take heart in the fact that no one on this earth can predict someone else’s demise. Few oncologists will tell a cancer patient exactly how many months they have live. This is because so many variables can affect it. This includes the type of cancer, stage of cancer, how his or her body processes the medications, genetics, and how healthy they were before being stricken with the disease.
“Denying my friend was dying of cancer disrespected our friendship. She shouldn't have to cope with me struggling to live in a fantasy world while she deals -- alone -- with the stark reality of her death.”
Your best friend has cancer: what can I do?
Make it a goal to help your loved one LIVE — while he or she is still alive, not to dwell on statistics that have nothing to do with her particular case or her potential miracle.
“You know, I’m probably not going to make it,” said Nicole.
“Yes, that is true,” I replied. “But as long as you are willing to try, I want you to know that I will be by your side helping you every step of the way and praying with you through this.”
Denying that fighting cancer is a massive battle would just demean her efforts. She shouldn’t have to cope with me struggling to live in a fantasy world while she deals — alone — with the stark reality.
Adjust to the patient’s changing world
Nicole and I used to love to go out to eat at seafood and ethnic restaurants and try all kinds of different foods. It was one of our favorite ways to spend an evening. Now that she faces chemo every other week for the foreseeable future, and is homebound — except to go to doctor’s visit — she doesn’t have an appetite or interest in foods. She takes three or four bites and is done with her meal.
I could bemoan the fact that she no longer is a fun dinner companion or I can adjust to her world. I can pay attention to the foods she does enjoy and bring them to her. For instance, she loves cashews, and they are a healthy snack packed with protein. Another day I brought her some of her favorite Ben & Jerry’s Rocky Road ice cream. When death is close having too much ice-cream isn’t an issue anymore.
Nicole and I used to love to go shopping in fabulous malls. Now that she is homebound, her world has shrunk. The things that excite her these days are watching reality TV shows and playing word games, like Scrabble. My goal is to spend quality time with my friend while I still can, so if that means foregoing the mall to watch a scandalous TV series or playing some Scrabble, that’s what I’ll do.
Since she can’t go shopping, I’ll treat her to a new nightgown or a pair of warm, fuzzy slippers occasionally. Her world doesn’t consist of designer jeans and sexy sweaters anymore; it consists of a day spent 24/7 in a hospital bed. By adjusting to her world, I get to be a welcome part of it — and to me — that is everything.
Let the patient have some semblance of control
Don’t manipulate the conversations so that you avoid the topic of cancer altogether. I let guide the discussions about her disease, treatment options, and physicians. I will say to my friend, “How do you feel today?” She usually says something like “I’m doing okay, but I don’t want to talk about sickness today.” At other times, when I ask her how she is feeling, she may go into great detail about her treatment options and ask me what I think about each of them.
After trying three different chemotherapies in an attempt to shrink the large tumor that is pressing on the nerves of her spinal column — and having no success — now they are simply focusing on preventing the tumor from growing. This will hopefully prevent loss of mobility in her legs.
Cancer steals control away from the victim. They often feel helpless and isolated. By allowing Nicole to have power over when she discusses the disease, I am giving her a gift.
People with cancer often have triggers that make them feel angry or hypersensitive at certain times. I try to listen carefully so that I will hear the cues that indicate I should “back off,” — at least for right now. In the journey with your loved one who is battling cancer, I wish you all the compassion and sensitivity in the world, for the road is rocky and filled with potholes.