Helping a friend in need

I’ve often thought of sharing a list of “what not to say to someone who has cancer.” However, I’ve seen many of these lists before and I know they can be somewhat harsh and make people feel like there is not a single thing they can do that is right when someone they care about is sick. So instead, I think it might be more productive to do a “how to help someone who has cancer” list.

1. PRESENTS

Anyone who has been following along since the beginning of the blog knows that I loooooved getting gifts while undergoing cancer treatment. Presents are awesome even when you’re feeling great, but they’re extra awesome when you’re feeling lousy. Sometimes the only thing that would make me smile on a terrible day was hearing the doorbell ring and seeing a box waiting for me. There was one day when I had multiple delivery trucks lined up in front of my house, and I felt extremely important. It didn’t even matter what the gift was, if it was something small or large, useful or just entertaining. It was the thought, and the unexpected surprise on an otherwise gloomy day.

Nothing sweeter than the sight and sound of that magical brown truck.
Nothing sweeter than the sight and sound of that magical brown truck.

So if you know someone who is dealing with an illness, send them something. Show them you’re thinking of them. Oh, but don’t expect a thank you card, because they have cancer, and don’t have the energy to deal with rules of etiquette.

2. CALL/WRITE/TEXT/MAIL

I know some people feel like they don’t want to burden someone who has cancer and sometimes they think that leaving them alone is the best strategy. I can tell you that in most cases, this is not true. Sure, you might occasionally say the wrong thing, or you might write an email or leave a voicemail that never gets read or heard because the person is ill and exhausted and can’t keep track of anything. But I will tell you that silence or absence from a friend is a lot more hurtful than any dumb thing you could possibly say or do.

That about sums it up.
That about sums it up.

So send your friend a message to tell them they’re on your mind, and that they don’t need to respond. And don’t only reach out at the very beginning when you’re initially reacting to the shock of it all. Show that you’re still there, weeks, months later. Because that’s when it gets really hard. And really lonely. A cancer patient can never have too many friends.

3. SEND FOOD

There were many, many days where I simply did not have it in me to get groceries or make a half-decent meal. There were many days I couldn’t stand up for more than a minute, and standing is really helpful when grocery shopping or cooking. Apart from physical limitations, I also did not have the mental capacity to think about food and putting ingredients together.

Life for me and my husband was filled with stress 24/7 and there wasn’t a single second where we weren’t completely exhausted. People who sent us food were literally our life savers. We had some friends and family who would make complete meals that we could keep in the fridge and live off for an entire week. We had other friends send us gift cards for a food delivery service where we could order several flash-frozen meals and serve them up whenever we needed to. So if your friend is ill, send them food. Don’t ask what you can do. Don’t ask if they need anything. Don’t make them think. Just do it. Send food. And they will eat all of it. And they will love you forever.

This bib is kind of offensive, but also kind of awesome, no?
This bib is kind of offensive, but also kind of awesome, no?

4. LET THEM BE A BIG, WHINY, CRYING BABY

When I was feeling like I wanted to die, it was very helpful to be around people who let me feel that way. People who would let me cry, let me scream, let me blubber this is so unfaaaaair, I hate my liiiiiiiiiife, I hate everyoneeee, waaaaaaah JUST KILL ME NOWWWWW! I had a lot of these moments, and they were not my finest, but that’s just the kind of mood I was in while I was sitting around, bald, trying not to puke, staring out the window. The last thing I wanted to be told was to cheer up or keep a positive attitude or any of that bullshit. The best thing you can say is “this really sucks and I hate that you’re going through this.” Nothing you can say or do can make anything better. The best thing you can do is let your friend scream and cry and feel all the feelings they need to until they finally pass out from exhaustion.

I feel ya, Johnny, I really do.
I feel ya, Johnny, I really do.

I know, it’s not really fun being friends with someone who has cancer, right? But having cancer is actually worse, so suck it up, be a pal, and sit with your friend while she drips snot all down her face and makes morbid comments about death and funerals. Yay friendship!

5. DON’T OVERSTAY YOUR WELCOME

This one is pretty simple, and you would think obvious. But for some people, it’s not, so I think it’s worth mentioning. When I was stuck at home for what felt like a million years, it was nice having friends and family visit. But it would take about ten minutes of socializing for me to feel like I needed a nap most days. I never want to tell anyone to leave, because it makes me feel like an ungrateful person. So don’t make me say it. Just leave!

The best friends are the ones who come (only after asking if it’s OK first), say hi, stay for a short visit, and then say “you should rest, I’m going to go now” without making me say it. Because truthfully, no one undergoing chemo is listening to more than 1/4 of anything you are saying to them. For me, I spent most of my social encounters thinking, How long until I can crawl back under my blanket and watch Marry Poppins while I cry without anyone seeing me?

Know your friend’s limits and respect them. Or, if you’re my brother and his girlfriend, you can just wait until I scream, GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE, which happened on more than one occasion. But we’re all still friends. I think.

 

Side effects may include the following

I’m tired.

This week has been a long one. On Tuesday, I was at the hospital almost the entire day, dealing with various appointments and consultations, and an unfortunate mix-up with my blood. I had to hear more things about my “prognosis being slightly worse” because of my age and “greater chances of it coming back” because of X, Y, and Z, and blah blah blah, and again process the idea of more treatment, which is starting to feel never-ending. It is difficult not to get upset after these types of conversations. My typical routine is to get through it, keep myself composed, ask all the right questions, and then go home and scream and cry and shout “I don’t want to dieeeeeee!” and hyperventilate for a minute or two. Then after exhausting myself, I usually put some crap on the TV like The Bachelor (my saving grace as of late) and distract myself until the next wave of panic hits for one reason or another.

Needless to say, it is exhausting. I keep telling people that I am bored. But it’s not the bored you are thinking of, where I have nothing to do. In fact, I often feel like I have too much to do and not enough time. It is more a case of an overall boredom with cancer. I am bored of dealing with it, talking about it, stressing about it. Bored. I want to be focused on something else. I would rather be complaining about the cold that many people on my Facebook seem to have. I would rather be staring at a wall, watching paint dry, or scratching my fingernails across a chalkboard. Essentially, I would rather be doing almost anything. That is where I’m at.

I have been experiencing some bad pains in my back the past couple days. For the average person, back pain would be of little concern. But anyone who has or had cancer can tell you that any new type of pain can be a cause for alarm. It is nearly impossible not to quickly jump to the conclusion that bad pain means the cancer has spread. I wish my brain did not go there, to such a dark place. I wish I could brush off pain the way other people are lucky enough to be able to do. But I can’t. Will I ever be able to? I’m not sure. But for right now, I am really hoping the pain gets better, because I don’t need a new worry to add to the list. The list is getting awfully long, my friends.

Tomorrow I go for my next chemo, which involves a new regimen. The infusions will take a total of 5 hours. With the typical wait times, I will likely be in the hospital all day. Please feel free to suggest fun things to do while sitting in a chemo chair for 5 hours.

The new chemo involves a drug which is typically known as one of the more horrendous chemo drugs one can receive. Fun possible side effects include neuropathy, debilitating mouth sores, terrible body pains and aches, loss of nails, and extreme fatigue, among others. As my oncologist said, I don’t think you’re going to like it too much. I should mention that over the next few days, or possibly week, I likely won’t be too great at responding to any emails or messages. Know that if I don’t answer you, I am most likely lying under my covers in the dark listening to some sort of “Songs for sad emo wussies” playlist on Songza.

I will also be starting my first round of the drug that will hopefully have a life-saving effect on me. And in addition, I start my clinical trial drug, where I will either be receiving a real drug, or a placebo. I will not know. Please cross your fingers for me that I receive the real deal. My chemo drug also has a tendency to cause severe allergic reactions, which is why I am currently hopped up on steroids and will be for the next couple days. So please cross your fingers as well that I don’t have a severe reaction when they start the drug. In fact, cross your toes too, if you have the ability to do that. Lots of happy thoughts tomorrow, if you can spare some.

On a slightly cheerier note, this week was a really great one in the I’m-a-cancer-patient-so-I-get-lots-of-gifts arena. I received a handmade tshirt from an old schoolmate (and former prom queen, hollaaa!) who now lives in New Zealand. She somehow created a stencil of me wearing a scarf and incorporated a cupcake theme and painted it on, and the whole thing was beyond impressive to me. I wore it to the hospital yesterday, proudly. I also got another package from the The Canary Islands (yes, many of my friends live in weird, exotic locales) which included a super soft sleep mask that I will likely bring with me tomorrow in hopes that it induces a nice chemo coma. And I got some more pretty nail polishes from my new pen pal, who volunteers to send me things through an organization, out of the goodness of her kind heart. On the food side, I have some soup, mashed potatoes, cookies and more goodies waiting for me. You all have no idea how much these things brighten my day. Well, hopefully you do. Because I just told you.

That’s all I wish to share for right now. Think of me tomorrow, with my hands and feet submerged in buckets of ice (something I have to do to try to prevent finger and feet problems). Hopefully that creates an interesting picture for you.

See you on the other side.

Today.