"Boy, you look awful." I made this mistake only once, as I saw the hurt in Sam's eyes as I uttered the last syllable.
©Laurin Rinder / Adobe Stock
“I have ovarian cancer.” Four tiny life-changing words that no one wants to hear; especially not from their best friend over a Sunday morning champagne brunch. Yet, there I was, sipping a Moët & Chandon, listening to those horrible words from my bestie, Sam. My world started to spin violently around us. How do I support a friend who has ovarian cancer? This is horrible. I don’t know what to do.
Together, we had conquered bullies, bad relationships and taco nights that went awry, so why did I feel like the whole world came down at my feet when she uttered those four words? And how did this immediately become all about me and my feelings?
At that moment, I decided to gather up my strength and do whatever I could to help her respond to her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, for better or for worse. I promised myself that this would be about her, not me, even though I was terrified of losing my bestie. If you ever are faced with your bestie having a life-changing diagnosis, I hope you can find my experience to battle back cancer with your very best friend.
How to support a friend who has ovarian cancer
1. Embrace the absurdity of life
When ovarian cancer rears its ugly head, nothing in the world makes sense for a while after diagnosis. At this early stage, we found it best to embrace the absurdity of life by watching silly movies, plays and music performances together. Our favorites were classic movies from our childhood, especially Groundhog Day, Encino Man and Happy Gilmore. We would silly songs in the car, watch funny videos online, and strive to laugh and embrace the way life brings the absurd in beautiful ways.
2. Create beautiful mandalas together
To better understand the beauty in the impermanence of life, we would create mandalas using temporary materials. This activity can help you, and your bestie see the good in the world when your perception takes a dreary-turn. Wherever we would go, we would create mandalas using henna, sand, beads or other items that easily wash or sweep away afterward. When my bestie had no energy or patience for this activity, I acted as the creator of our shared mandalas to help highlight the beauty we could create in the world.
3. Assemble care packages for each stage of treatment
There is no doubt about it: ovarian cancer treatment sucks. Whether it saps your bestie’s energy or brings waves of nausea, every stage of the treatment process brings its own challenges. You can conspire with your best friend to learn about each stage of treatment and create a care package for each appointment. When I visited after her hysterectomy, Sam loved the uterus plushie I brought to bring her comfort and a laugh. To beat nausea that plagued her during chemo, I put together a basket of all things ginger along with a soft blanket to snuggle during each treatment. The care package items helped alleviate the worst side effects and provided some of my bestie’s favorite things in life.
4. Utilize apps to create fun conversations
During treatment, cancer tends to remain the elephant in the room, creating a black cloud to damper all fun conversations. We pushed the elephant back to the zoo and resumed our fun conversations by utilizing the power of smartphone apps. Our favorite was Snapchat with its fun filters and quirky elements that made even the most mundane conversations a blast. When I could not make it to the hospital for Sam’s treatments, I stayed by her side using this platform. We found that when you utilize smartphone apps to keep the conversations going, you can offer support while staying lighthearted through the toughest of ordeals.
5. Offer genuine positive compliments
As cancer treatments threaten to suck the life out of your bestie, self-esteem tends to take a dive as well. Before most people can stop them, statements like, “Boy, you look awful,” slip through the lips, reinforcing this dip in confidence for the long term. I made this mistake only once, as I saw the hurt in Sam’s eyes as I uttered the last syllable. At that moment, I made it my mission to renew my bestie’s sense of self-worth by providing truly genuine, positive compliments whenever possible. I knew I was the best person to do this because I can clearly see how beautiful and amazing my best friend is, in and out. For my Sam, I always complimented the mischievous twinkle in her eyes and her great laugh, as I wanted her to embrace those pieces of herself while braving her cancer treatments.
6. Open your Ears (and close your lips)
When I was told my best friend has ovarian cancer I was uncomfortable. I nervously overshadowed her announcement with a running stream of support commentary. I just desperately wanted to be there for her but did not know how. I realized later that, at that moment, I needed to close my lips and open my ears to share her burden in a meaningful way. By understanding her need for a listening ear, I was able to become a source of calm support throughout the treatment process.
As Sam found the most important battle of her life, I learned so much about being a truly great friend during the most terrible times. My learning process was fraught with pitfalls, especially as I did not know how to proceed at first. I hope that by sharing my experience, you can offer your bestie immense support from day one.