(For the last Friday in Cancer Awareness Month, I'm posting the second post by my friend, a breast cancer survivor. She wrote this post earlier in the month, and her blog is at Dance With The Reaper.)
Oh, shoot, your friend has just told you that she has been diagnosed with cancer. I am so sorry. You're reading this post, wondering how you can be a good friend.
The bad answer is that there is nothing you can do to make your friend's cancer better. All you can do is make the little things easier for her, and let her know that you remain her friend.
Here are some things that people did for me, that I appreciated a lot.
Meals. All of those casseroles, and lasagna, and home made food, and food from the grocery store, and food from take-out food places. All of it. I appreciated it all. But please do ask about food allergies. It's terrible to have to throw out something someone made because it has nuts in it.
Time. Not a lot of people have the stomach to spend time with someone who is going through cancer, but those people who did meant a lot to me. Spend a morning with her. Even if all she does is sleep, it
means a lot. And while you are there, do the dishes or fold a load of laundry. My brother came out for a week and my friend Heather even flew out to spend a few days with me while I was going through
radiation. Those two visits made the whole seven weeks of radiation feel like a gift and not a trial.
Chauffeuring. A lot of cancer patients drive themselves to appointments. I don't know how they do it. Offer to drive your friend to the doctor, the grocery store, the dry cleaner. Pick her kids up and take them to soccer and ballet. Not being able to drive is paralyzing, especially since most Americans don't have access to decent public transportation, and people with compromised immune systems shouldn't take public transit anyway.
Notes and cards. We moved recently, and, in unpacking, I found a box of cards people had sent to me while I was sick. I read them and threw them out (I am not a keeper of anything) but the fact that my
husband and mother had kept them and put them into a box for me to look at tells you how much it meant to me and my family.
Presents. This is a tricky one, because most people are not like me, and they have a hard time throwing stuff out. I was sent numerous hats, scarves, books, and miscellaneous items throughout my ordeal by my totally awesome friends, who are awesome, and who I do not deserve. Anyone who is my friend knows that I will throw stuff out at the slightest provocation, so everything I got came with a note that said "if you don't like this, give it away or throw it away, and don't send a thank you note." I have the best friends ever. Thank you all, again.
Money. Cancer is so expensive. How do you give someone money? You don't, of course, but you give gift certificates to the grocery store, and to Target and, in the case of my completely awesome and wonderful friends, Neiman Marcus.
The hardest part, for me, has been picking up friendships after my cancer treatment was over. It is extremely awkward, probably because my friends are all mad at me for being a gross noncommunicator while I was going through treatment, and then for being just wretched all the time while I recovered. It's taken the better part of two years for me to return to something even resembling normal. My true friends are the ones who have overlooked the massive faux pas that has been me for a very, very long time.
My favorite cancer friend story is this one:
I was at Little Gym with my son, who was four, chit chatting with one of the moms. I mentioned that I had forgotten a lot of basic stuff as a result of my treatment, so I felt like I was some horrid combination of 13 and 19 years old. I saw the light bulb go off in her head and she said, kindly, "Do you remember my name?"
"Do you remember me at all?"
I shook my head. I have the feeling she brought over a lasagna a week for months.
"Well, I'm Brooke, and we're friends, and we can start over and become friends again."
If you want to be a good cancer friend, be like my friend Brooke.