My friend has cancer. What do I do?

(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?"

 "No."

"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.

Expanded Wonder Weeks book!

For those of us who love The Wonder Weeks but wish it wasn't just about babies, your wish is granted. They've just released a new, expanded version that goes up to 20 months and has more ideas about things you can do during the wonder week leaps to make the leaps more entertaining for you (and, presumably, your baby). US$25 at Amazon, which makes it the perfect baby shower or new-parent or gift-giving-holiday-at-the-end-of-the-calendar-year gift.

Q&A: When is it “time” to stop co-sleeping?

A writes:

"When is it time to stop co sleeping?  And I don't mean 'you must not share a bed past 18 months'.  What are the signs that it is time to sleep separately, from an emotional/developmental point of view?

My son still falls asleep in my bed most nights.  And the nights he falls asleep in his own bed he comes into my bed at some point during the night.  I *try* not to make sleeping in his bed a punishment ("If you don't keep your head on the pillow you are going to sleep in your own bed tonight"  has escaped my mouth more than once).  And I like climbing into a bed that has been prewarmed, or waking up to my baby-turned-little-boy cuddles."

You can probably guess what I'm going to say by the fact that I put the word time in quotes in the title:

It's time to stop co-sleeping when it stops working for one of you.

Kids are all different, and some need to sleep in a certain place under certain conditions or they can hardly sleep at all. Others could sleep on a bench in Grand Central Station and get a solid 10 uninterrupted hours. Some really like to sleep with other people in the room, and others need to sleep alone.

Which sounds a lot like adults, too.

When you have a baby, co-sleeping or not co-sleeping is about principles, and How You Parent, and about what you think you should do. But once you have a preschooler it really just becomes about what makes things better for everyone involved in the equation tonight, because you know that it won't be the same in a few months no matter what you do.

The developmental signs for him are that he wants to sleep in his own bed. And the developmental signs for you are that you want him to sleep in his own bed.

If you and your cuddlebug like sleeping close, go for it. When one of you gets sick of it, it may be a big moment, or you may not even realize you've stopped co-sleeping until it's been awhile.

As long as you're being specific about respecting your kids' boundaries and teaching them to respect yours, do what works to get everyone as much sleep as possible.

 

Halloween

I've been getting so many questions and remarks about Halloween, I thought we should just have an open Halloween thread.

What are your thoughts about Halloween? For kids? For adults?

Do you dress up? Do your kids dress up?

Thankfully, Halloween's on a Sunday this year, so we don't have to deal with whether or not kids can wear their costumes to school.

How do you deal with the candy?

And, finally, are you ready for Candletime to start on Monday?

I'll start:

I like Halloween because I enjoy the dressing up, and the chance it gives little kids to play around with identity. Watching my younger one exploring what it would be like to be "bad" when he dressed as Darth Vader last year was fascinating.

I may dress up, but haven't decided that yet. My younger one is very into dressing up, but doesn't want me to reveal his costume in advance. My older one goes back and forth between being "over it, Mom," and thinking he might want to wear a costume but he doesn't know what…

I let my kids eat as much candy as they want to as long as they've eaten a reasonable meal first. They gorge for a couple of days and then get sick of it and it's over by November 3 or 4.

I am excited for Candletime! (In case you don't remember from last year, Candletime is a new holiday that prevents Halloween from sliding straight into Christmas. It runs from November 1 to November 24 this year, and the way to celebrate it is by dimming the lights and lighting candles when you're home in the evening, and enjoying a cup of tea or cider or cocoa or a glass of wine.)

Thoughts on Halloween?

Ow ow ow

Lingering head cold + airplane ride with long descent = clogged, super-painful right ear.

I've blown, yawned, swallowed, chewed gum, held my nose and blown. What's next, other than ear candling, or the move from the guy in the movie Pi? (If you don't know what I'm talking about, don't look it up.)

Wearing purple

I've been thinking a lot about bullying lately. First there was the rash of teen bullying that led to six suicides in the last few weeks. But I've also been thinking about how common bullying is in all segments of society, even among adults, and what we can do about it personally.

My older son has been in this strange bullying cycle with some kids at school for the past few years. There's one ringleader who seems to have a strange psychological hold on the other boys (there are 4 or 5 others, including my son) wo calls the dance. The ringleader decides who he likes that day based on who will do what he says, and then they harrass the other kids. So it's this shifting cycle of bullying and being bullied, and it makes recess both an adrenaline rush and a minefield.

For the past few weeks, my son hads been talking himself through how he's going to resist and stand up to the ringleader. His dad and I have been comparing notes, and our son has been talking about it with both of us, broad strategies and rehearsing the things he's going to say.

I don't know if he's going to be able to break completely free right away, but what I do know is that  bullying only really works when the bully convinces the victim that the bully's point of view is the right one. So just by talking about it with our son, we're giving him some perspective to figure out what he's going to do.

My best friend was being bullied by her boyfriend, who was making her think his behavior was normal. Once she started talking about it and realized it wasn't, she broke up with him. Another good friend of mine, a teacher, is being bullied at work by the administrators of her school. She, also, did not realize how wrong the situation was and how unethical (and probably illegal) her administrators' behavior was until she started talking about what was happening and we all freaked out about the abuse.

I am hoping that the conversations lots of us are having about the teen suicides can translate into conversations about bullying in general. I know I talked about it with my son this morning. And in our conversations about his dealing with his bully we've also talked about how not to bully other people and what to do with feelings that you might need to show power over someone else.

I don't have any concrete strategies except to shine a light on bad behavior. Even if the abuser doesn't stop, the person being abused at least knows it's not right and not their fault.

Thoughts?

Um

I'm still here. And basically OK. (Thank you for checking on me!) Just too much work, and seven states in the past two weeks, including my 20-year high school reunion. Which was really, really weird, but good. And then this morning I was writing a post in my head in the shower but then discovered that my glasses were broken (grrr–cats!) and my only back-up are my sunglasses, so I'm dealing with that at this minute, and everything's a little dark and red-tinted. Also, did you know that if you hire someone at work, you actually have to train them to do the job? They don't just show up knowing everything already?

I'm going to be home for six more days in a row, so should be able to write some actual posts for you instead of disappearing as if I'd been vaporized.

What's going on with you?

The Unthinkable

[A friend of mine, a mother of two young children, had a serious, scary breast cancer. I asked her to write a post for me about having cancer, so she wrote two. Here's the first one. The second one will go up next Friday. If you'd like to read more from her, check out her blog Dance With The Reaper.]

My friend Moxie asked me to write a guest post on breast cancer for her blog.  I'm unfortunately well qualified, since I am a two-year survivor of Stage IIIC inoperable Grade 3 triple negative invasive
ductal carcinoma of the left breast with involvement of the supraclavicular and inframammary lymph nodes.  If you google that, you will see how bad my prognosis was.  It's better now.  My current
prognosis is that of most breast cancer patients.

Getting a cancer diagnosis plunges you into the certainty of chaos. You can't control whether you get cancer.  The reality is that no one knows why some women get breast cancer and some women don't.  There are some long term epidemiological studies correlating certain risk factors to an increased occurrence of cancer, but you can do all the wrong things and never get cancer, or you can do everything right, as I did, and still get it.  That being said, there are some things you can do to lower your cancer risk.  These are all good ideas anyway, with or without the specter of cancer.

Get enough sleep.  Go to bed at the same time every day and wake up at the same time every day.  It boosts your immune system.  Plus, you look and feel better.

Exercise.  Aim for at least 20 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.  Not only has this been shown to lower your risk of getting many different kinds of cancer, but it also improves your overall
health, mental and physical.

Eat healthy food.  Most importantly, eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and whole grains, and avoid processed foods and hydrogenated fats.  There is a bulletin I picked up in the waiting room at M.D. Anderson that says "People with cancer should not eat trans fats."  I don't think anyone should eat trans fats.

Maintain a healthy weight.  If you do all of the above, this becomes less of a challenge.

Seek inner peace.  Pray.  Sing,  Meditate.  Do whatever works for you to keep the tangles out of your mind.

Do a monthly breast self-exam. I did, and now I can say that I saved my own life.  How empowering is that!

Don't smoke, and don't spend time around people who do.  Seriously.

Drink moderately, or not at all.  There are some compelling studies linking drunkenness to breast cancer.  I personally think that cancer is one of the least likely consequences of habitual overindulgence of alcohol.  Drink less, and if that is a challenge for you, then seek out a support group.

Of course, you can practice all of these healthful habits, like me, and still come down with a case of cancer that generally kills 90% of the women who have it within two years.  But if that happens, you
won't be consumed with regret and guilt over all those Ho-Ho's or Fritos or nicotine, or whatever trash you put into your body.

Recently, a close friend of mine who just finished treatment for ovarian cancer, was over at my house drinking coffee.  "What did I do wrong," she lamented, "What sin did I commit to have this happen to
me?"

"Stop thinking like that," I said to her.  "Dogs get cancer.  Horses get cancer.  Sharks, I hear, do not get cancer.  It's nothing you did or didn't do.  It's just bad luck."

We all want to think that we can do, or not do, something to control our lives, but it's a myth, and hanging on to the belief that we can control whether we get cancer by our actions is magical thinking.  The bottom line is:  don't ruin your life worrying about "what if I get cancer."  You probably won't.  You should practice good health habits because it's a good idea.  And, if you do get cancer, it's not your
fault, so don't blame yourself.  It doesn't help.