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How to Help Someone With Cancer

 

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A Quick Note: I will be at the World Domination Summit next month in Portland, Oregon. Are you going? If so let me know — it would be great to connect!

Two posts in three days — I’m on a roll!

As many of you picked up from the tone of my last article, I am feeling much, much better. As more time has passed from the disasters of six weeks ago when I lost my relationship and home (making me feel more physically ill than I had felt this entire time), my body has finally had a chance to recover. I also have benefitted from a three-week break between chemo doses, although, sadly, yesterday marked the start of my next round, which will last eight weeks and include doses as frequent as five days a week.

Given everything that’s happened, it was a natural decision for me to move from Los Angeles to my home in the Bay Area, where I can get my oncology care at Stanford while benefitting from the fully-stocked fridge and plentiful doting of my parents. I plan to stay up here at least for the next two months, and possibly longer, depending on how I’m feeling and for how long I need the help.

I have been wanting to write Tuesday’s article for a while — having spent months digesting my observations on how other’s interact with me — and so it was as cathartic for me to post as it seems it was for many of you to read.

I want to add, too, that I am seriously impressed by the comments and messages many of you left in response, both from those of you sharing your own experiences (I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud so many times reading your emails — one guy described an incident where a well-meaning coworker wordlessly put her hands on his head, as if in prayer,  for several minutes before walking away and leaving him to wonder what the hell just happened), and from those of you considering if you see yourself in any of my stories, sincerely wanting to learn from them so you can become better friends and family members.

I feel honored to have such a high level of discourse on my blog and such extraordinary people reading my writing.

Since my last post described so many examples of what not to do, it felt like a natural follow up to give some guidelines that will help you be a better supporter to someone dealing with cancer (and probably illness and major life catastrophes in general).

1. First and foremost: It’s not about you anymore — it’s about them. Cancer is serious. It is life-threatening. It messes with your mind by destroying your faith in fairness and safety in the world; it messes with your body by making you feel so sick that many days feel like cruel torture rather than life.

As bad as you think it is, it is worse. As much as it can be difficult to be around someone with cancer, it is not remotely close to how difficult it is having it.

On top of that, cancer seems to create a cruel irony where the person suffering with it no longer can spent as much time focusing on other’s needs, and, simultaneously, others feel compelled to project their own needs and problems onto that person. To be of service to someone with cancer, you must have (or develop really fast) the self-awareness not to make their illness about you, in any way.

Many people seem to understand this on a superficial level without really understanding it. Are you going to be okay with things like unreturned calls or emails? Are you going to be upset if you give a gift and don’t get a thank-you card in return? Is your caring going to manifest as trying to control?

When I was first diagnosed, many people suddenly came out of the woodwork eager to help. Many of these people were genuine and respectful, sending kind messages and hopeful words without expecting anything in return — but many others tried to push contact on me even though our relationship prior wasn’t that close.

I remember feeling completely overwhelmed when people I didn’t know that well kept calling or emailing, insisting they wanted to visit. A person’s cancer diagnosis may make you suddenly want to reach out to them — but that person may or may not be in the mood for making new friends.

It felt as if others heard my story and wanted to touch it, be close to it, bask in it in some strange and self-serving way. I had several visitors who were obviously there just to check off the “visit cancer patient” box on their to-do list and then move on with their lives. If you imagine yourself visiting your ill friend only once, consider if you fit in this category.

When approaching someone with cancer,  you must consider, carefully, the true motivations behind why you say what you say and why you do what you do. We’d all like to thing we’re altruistic and selfless, but as human beings, many of us are in the habit of using others to meet our needs rather than the other way around.

The problem is that now, subtly self-involved motivations can be damaging or distressing to the person you are trying to support. You can easily do more harm than good. The person already has the burden of their illness; imagine the additional burden of trying to fulfill the complicated needs of others who project their issues onto them when their sick. You can’t make it about you. It’s not about you.

Not making it about you means:

Giving help without the expectation of getting anything in return.
Not forcing your help onto someone who doesn’t want it.
Remembering that their cancer is their burden and their story — not yours.
Respecting the other person’s belief systems and preferences about medical treatment.
Respecting the other person’s right to privacy.
Staying away if you don’t have the character to deal with it (and I mean no judgment by this — not everyone does).

2. Be honest and authentic. Avoid cliches. When you don’t know what to say, listen. Meaningless platitudes tend to spill out of people’s mouths when they feel uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. But — cancer does not suddenly require you to solve someone else’s problems with your words.

Are you sad, afraid, confused, do you not know what to say? Just say that. Also, say less, and listen more. I never expect anyone to say the “perfect” words to me — I usually just want people to listen. And if we’re friends, it’s for a reason. Just be yourself.

Your words need not be sophisticated to be authentic:

“How are you?”
“That sucks, I’m sorry.”
“I’m thinking of you.”
“I hope things get better for you.”
“I love you.”

If you can imagine your words printed inside an inspirational book of quotes… don’t say them.

3. Offer advice carefully, if at all. So much advice is offered to people dealing with cancer for the benefit of the ego of the person offering it rather than because it is actually useful. Before giving any advice, ask yourself, who is this for?

Almost all the helpful advice I have gotten has come exclusively from people who have had cancer or who have been close to someone with cancer, speaking from their own experiences, talking specifically. Things like: Get a port instead of a PICC; use EMLA cream before your port is accessed; it’s okay if your feelings are hurt when xyz happens; try edibles for nausea.

If you’ve never dealt with what the other person is dealing with, consider whether your advice is so crucial. Remember that your friend likely has a thousand other people trying to tell them what to do.

Unless you’re a healthcare practitioner, avoid giving medical advice. I had, disturbingly, dozens of people email me telling me chemotherapy was poison and I should avoid it at all costs (it is poison, but it’s poison that will save my life).

4. If you don’t know what to say, ask. If you don’t know what to do, ask. I write from my own experiences, but others will have different preferences. I, for example, love when friends visit; I know others who have preferred to battle their illness with family alone.

No one will expect you to automatically know what they want, so don’t feel uncomfortable asking directly.

“Do you like it when I visit or do you prefer being alone?”
“Would it be helpful or annoying if I called regularly?”
“When I said xyz did it bother you?”
“Is it okay if I update other people on your situation?”

Illness steals your independence and autonomy. I struggle regularly with wanting help but feeling conflicted that I need it. Many people, without meaning to, infantilize me or push physical or emotional boundaries (asking intrusive personal questions, for example, or touching me when the situation or our relationship doesn’t warrant it).

Different people will have different comfort levels with physical and emotional intimacy. I especially appreciate when people ask me about my boundaries. “Is it okay if I rub your head?” (when people ask, I usually don’t mind) or “Are you up for talking about this right now?”

Asking relieves you of the responsibility of having to come up with the “right” thing to say or do. Asking communicates respect. Asking gives control back to the other person — a gift when so much control has been stolen from them.

5. Reliable, consistent help is much more valuable than rare bursts of enthusiasm. Cancer treatments usually last a long time. While people show the most enthusiasm for helping right after a diagnosis, your buddy with cancer will need support for a lot longer than that.

Before I moved in with my cousin (who, by the way, could write the book on how to support someone with serious illness) she regularly texted me to see if I needed anything.

I knew that, like clockwork, I would hear from her every Monday and Wednesday with an offer to drop off groceries, and that every Thursday she would come by for a visit. She told me later she had set a calendar alert on her phone to remind her to get in touch with me on a schedule. On top of that, knowing that I would need help for a long, long time, she offered to send a cleaning lady to my house for the entire year. (Yes, she is a saint, I know).

One of my attendings lived near me and would call whenever she was driving by our neighborhood Whole Foods. When I saw her name on the caller ID I knew I she was available to stop by and deliver food, but I didn’t need to feel obligated to take the call if I was tired or just not up for it. She was also sensitive to the fact that sometimes I might just want the food and not the visit.

One friend, a coresident, regularly left home-cooked meals in our library’s mini-fridge for me to pick up when I was on campus for doctor’s appointments. Another took me out for monthly pedicures. Many friends have visited me regularly in chemo.

Another friend, who doesn’t have a lot of time but has a lot of money, generously paid for many of my Uber rides.  I have a few “moms” (my mom, birthmom, and ex-boyfriend’s mom) who visited for a week at a time or more, cooking all of my meals, driving me to my appointments, and keeping me company.

You don’t need to do as much as these people to be of service. Rather, consider thoughtfully what you can realistically offer throughout a person’s treatments (even if it’s just a text checking in), and try to offer it regularly.

Apart from hearing “No need to respond” with offers of help, another phrase that’s been music to my ears is, “Take me up on this offer whenever. It’s an open invitation.” I know that I can follow up with this person at any point — a month, three months, six months — and the offer will be just as sincere as it was when it was made.

6. Whatever you do, and it saddens me that I even have to say this — do not offer help you if you are not prepared to follow through with it.

This was one of the cruelest things that well-meaning people did to me. I remember getting several offers of visits that never happened. Others ignored my calls or texts when I needed them.  One person said she was coming to visit me in the hospital and then never showed up — twice. I remember that, in my ill, lonely, and emotionally hypersensitive state, I cried when I realized she wasn’t going to come.

People offer help they’re never going to give for many reasons (perhaps they want to believe they’re a helpful type of person, or perhaps they just felt obligated in the moment), but ultimately, the reasons don’t matter. This type of “generosity” is selfish, damaging, and cruel to the person onto whom you are inflicting it. It is much better not to offer help in the first place.

Just because you know someone with cancer does not mean you’re suddenly obligated to be their savior. The one thing you ARE obligated to do is not make their life any more difficult than it already is. Sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is stay out of the person’s life.

7. When in doubt, offer practical help. When you are ill, the daily grind becomes much more difficult. I am usually so sick I’m not able to prepare my own food, let alone go shopping for groceries. I haven’t driven in months. Simple errands turn into near-insurmountable hurdles. Lying on the couch all day becomes lonely and isolating.

The most helpful things people have done for me: delivered food, given rides, shown up at my house or at chemo and offered company. The words “let me know if you need anything” are usually hollow, but when said by those few who mean them, are tremendously reassuring when unexpected problems are frequent and frustrating to deal with alone. I’ve called on friends to pick up prescriptions for me, bring me snacks when I’m stuck in chemo, help me move, etc.

8. Your love can save a person’s life. Your love is important. My closest friends and family — my biggest supporters — have not just helped me with a few meals or a few rides. They’ve shown me, at a time when I don’t feel like I’m living, that there is a reason I keep going to chemo every day. They show me I at least have a life worth coming back to.

I think so often about wanting to share my appreciation with everyone who’s helped me, and will put “call so and so” on my to do list, or keep emails for inordinately long periods of time hoping I will have the chance to respond to them.

Inevitably, I don’t have the time or words to reach out to everyone I want to, and while I know those helping me aren’t the type of people who need my appreciation, I hope they know I think about them often, that what they do for me goes far beyond the tangible support they give.

If you have a friend or family member going through a cancer diagnosis, you have an opportunity to show up and be the best kind of person who exists on this planet. You have the chance to give faith in life to a person who has probably lost it. If you can, step up and do it.

***

Photo by Kris

Comments

  1. Jennifer Ulie-Wells says:

    Elana,

    You and your posts continue to be awesome. You have THE most amazing attitude and humor throughout everything. I have followed you since prior your diagnosis and genuinely look forward to Tuesday posts. I had to think twice when I saw today’s post as to what day it is. I hope that you are able to find some peace and solace with your parents. I will continue to share your blog as it is the only one I follow and think others should too. Thanks for simply being you! I feel like I should end with something profound… oh wait… you’ve had enough of that crap. Take care:)

  2. Thank you. This post is incredibly helpful to me as a cancer patient, trying to explain to my extensive support group what I need. I hate asking for help, but feel irrationally hurt when I ask and am told ‘no’ or ‘next time’. Following your blog has helped me so much. You have a rare gift for putting into words the thoughts and feelings going through my head.

    • Ditto! This will hopefully help all people reaching out to me during this “interesting” life chapter. I am forever grateful for the kind words and actions bestowed upon me, but I find myself constantly worrying if I’m hurting other’s feelings when I decline a phone call during chemo, a coffee date or a night out.

      I should not be worrying about things like that. I need to focus on kicking cancer in the you-know-what!

  3. Dear Elana, you ARE on a roll! Appreciate the guidelines and so happy to hear from you 2 days in a row.
    You are amazing…be well,
    xxx

  4. Thk you!!! That was a very helpful post. Continuing to pray for the best for you.
    Thks again

  5. Jennifer says:

    So well put once again, Elana!!! Thank you so much for developing a “guide” for people who have not been through cancer. So important! I’m so glad you’re feeling a bit better and you’re able to post more often. I really look forward to your words of wisdom. Are you doing CHOP? I had 8 cycles of R-CHOP – it was quite rough, but it made it thru. Hope your next round goes ok. Sending healing thoughts your way!

  6. Thank you for the knowledge of this post! Oddly, it is helpful not in dealing with my wife’s battle with a brain tumor but with a friend who was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I feel better prepared now dealing with someone who is not as close but still important and hurting.

  7. Jaquelin says:

    Dear Elana,

    I don’t know you but I look forward to your posts, no matter the tone or content. I am always touched and impressed with your unwavering honesty and directness. I too am a Psychotherapist and as such have lived most of my life with many around me saying I am too honest or too direct. I prefer to live life that way and can see you do too. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the latest posts about what works and what does not when you are the
    person with cancer. I hope your blog is being read by a lot of people. I don’t know what more to say as I don’t want to use platitudes as I am sure you are now embarking on yet another difficult phase of treatment. Cancer sucks, chemo sucks, but in the end if it kills the suckers then it will be worth it. I love your face and your radiance shines through even in the toughest hours of this long process. Hang in there and rest into the knowledge that you are helping so many whom you don’t even know by sharing from your Soul how it is to be you with Cancer.

    I send you Blessings and all good wishes,

    Jaquelin Pearson

  8. Nicely done. I especially loved #s1&6. Even after chemo examples of both of these still sting for me. All the best for your next round!

  9. Barbara Snow says:

    What a great and useful post. At this point in my life (ummm….60…..wow) health issues are happening to family and friends. Cancer is the scariest by far, but your wisdom easily applies to other extreme illnesses. Thank you for doing this. Your generosity in the midst of your crisis humbles me. Sending you blessings, peace and positive vibes.
    Barb in Minnesota

  10. Patricia says:

    Wow!! The doctor is back!!!! Super useful pointers to have handy in case of an emergency. Stay on that wave sister and keep’em coming!

    Hugs,

    P.

  11. Hey Elana, your post is an important one. I can’t believe someone said they would visit you… and never showed up. Twice. That’s crushing enough to a healthy person, so I can’t even imagine how you felt. I think this post is going to help a lot of people help their loved ones.

    Last year, my aunt, my mother’s sister, fell to a long, painful battle with breast cancer. And a couple months ago, a very close family friend fell to cervical cancer. My mother’s been reading your posts, wishing she could go back in time and do things better, but at the same time is a bit relieved she did some of the things that you mentioned above. She says thank you for helping her understand a little bit about how they were feeling.

    Man, I want to go and punch those people who didn’t show up for you… but I’ll take a note from you, and how you turned it into something helpful and positive in this blog post (although, if you want someone to be angry for you, I’m totally game! And I’ll follow through on that one!).

  12. Elana,

    Your words are inspiring, wise and brave. Despite the immense difficulties you so courageously face, you’re able to truly inform others in such meaningful ways. Amazing that in a post about others helping you and those in similar circumstances, you’ve found a way to help others. Not knowing you personally, I’m still confident that this speaks to your great strength as an individual. It gives good reason for so many to share very positive thoughts about how you rise up to battle this challenge.

  13. Sophs mom says:

    Thank you for this! My 24 year old cousin was just diagnosed with liposarcoma and I want to be there for her so bad but I don’t know how besides talking to her, etc. Looks like I am on the right track. I wish you the best and I’m glad you are back to writing.

  14. Elana,
    Awesome! I’m so happy to hear that you feel well enough to attend the World Domination Summit and thrilled out of my gourd to see two posts from you in as many days. You rock!

    This post is amazing and incredibly informative and I hope it is ok to include a link to it in my next Caring Bridge blog post. (If not, please let me know).

    Now that I’ve been dealing with cancer, I find it strange that I see myself as a cancer patient and as a supporter or potential supporter of someone with a major illness. Your post today helped me on both sides of the experience and I am very grateful for the time and energy you chose to spend to post it.

    I hope your upcoming treatments combined with the support of your family go by quickly and with as little discomfort as you can possibly have.

    The biggest of blessings and healing love to you!

    Cheryl

  15. jdubyba says:

    Just so “Wow.” Just wow. Powerful. thank you.

  16. So well put!

    If I can add one thing about those visiting a cancer patient… Before you show up and ring the bell, please know in advance the person and family are ready to receive visitors. When our son was newly home from his initial and rather long stay in a distant hospital, his immune system was already well compromised by the chemo treatments they had given him in the hospital We had a very caring, very giving family stop by unannounced, and with their 8 or 9 year old daughter. My son was 18, certainly not a friend of the child at all, but both the parents had at one time or another been my son’s Church School Teacher. The daughter roamed the house, touching all kinds of things in the house. I was terrified! I am not sure if I was rude or not, but I made sure they marched into the powder room upon their entrance and thoroughly washed their hands and used the sanitizer now stationed at every sink in the house. At this point, we had even asked my own sister and adult nieces NOT to visit, just to keep the outside germs out of the house.

    So please know the condition of the person you plan to visit. And keep it up-to-date and very recent! In Elana’s previous blog entries, you can see how fast your status can change. If I told you yesterday all was clear, it does not mean it is still the same way this afternoon.

    Thank you Elana. You are an amazing person!

  17. Jennifer says:

    Thanks for another great post. Though I’m not sure how I first stumbled across your blog, I’ve been reading and enjoying it for a while now. I’m ever inspired by your vulnerability and insight.

    This and the last post were particularly useful. After reading your post yesterday, I emailed a friend who has cancer. We’ve been acquaintance/friends for many years, but typically only get together a few times a year. I had emailed him when I first heard of his diagnosis a few months ago and haven’t heard back (not that I expected a response). I’ve been wanting to reach out again, but didn’t want to add any undue burden or a sense of obligation to respond. What a great idea to simply include “no need to respond.” Thank you!

    Jennifer

    P.S. How great that you’re going to WDS! I’d love to connect if it works out.

  18. Very wise words! Thank you for sharing them. Hope you keep feeling better!!!!

  19. Elana,
    Glad to hear you are feeling stronger…
    Thank you again for eloquently sharing your wisdom.
    Are blog comments helpful to you or distracting? If the former, I’ll sign up for your newsletter so I can make sure to comment regularly.
    Holding your hand from afar (if I were there in person I would ask first ;)
    -Kira

  20. Hi Elana,

    Great post. I’ve read several times and will read again. So much good insight and a privilege to hear and read your thoughts on this impossibly difficult journey you are on. One btw that any of us or those close to us could be on tomorrow. So thank you for sharing Elana, thank you so much,
    k

    Oh and my favorite insight.

    “If you can imagine your words printed inside an inspirational book of quotes… don’t say them”

    LOL, that will stick with me forever. Brilliant!!
    k

  21. Wow, two amazing posts that have been extremely helpful! I have followed your blog well before you were diagnosed with cancer and I always look forward to Tuesdays. I know several people who have been diagnosed with cancer this year and I often struggled with how to be helpful besides encouraging them and cheering them on. The last two posts have helped me know what to do and not to do and I wanted to thank you for that. Thank you too, Elana, for sharing your life, the good and the bad with us.
    Lots of healing energy and love is being sent your way.
    Take care

  22. Elana, that was a great post! I will definitely file it away. You sound stronger in these last two posts. I am so happy about that. Stay strong and thank you for putting it out there!

    Carrie

  23. Dear Elana,

    This was a wise, generous and helpful post. I have shared it with many friends. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. Thank you for all of your thoughts.

    Wishing you well from Taos, NM.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing this Elana. I will try and remember it any time I interact with someone who is ill or going through something difficult. I know it makes total sense in the context of losing a loved one, which happened to me a couple years ago: the advice you give here would have applied to the people who were trying to help and comfort. :-)

  25. Hi Elana No Words Just I Love U…<3

  26. Your writings are of enormous value to all who read them.thank you Elena

  27. First, I’m so glad you are feeling stronger. Second, thank you for this post. I experienced many of the things you mentioned and am still grappling with my feelings about how some people behaved during my year of treatment. Unfortunately, some I cannot kick to the curb, so the pain of their behavior or complete disappearing act is relived over and over. I will say it has made me very conscious of others who are going through a health crisis. It takes seconds to send a text, and minutes to make a phone call or send a card. We ALL have that kind of time.

    Please take care – sending healing prayers your way.

  28. I have nothing profound other to say to you other than to thank you for this post. Sending you the healing vibes your way.

  29. Mia Tagano says:

    Dear Elana ~
    Thank you for this – we’ve had some cancer scares and losses in our family. I wish there had been a what-to-do list then, just to pass out to folks as they approached – Wait, Before you say one word, please read this! LOL. sigh… people do try. It was good to hear that you will be treated at Stanford – my cousin’s baby was treated there for 3 years – at Lucille Packard – we lost her just before she turned 4, six years ago yesterday. But she put up a good fight, with the help of some wonderful doctors and nurses there. Now the family holds an annual blood drive -started out with one bus now they’ve got two – amazing how many folk come.
    Another reason to write – this may come off strange -but I live just about 15-20 minutes from Stanford and I only work part-time. If you need someone to drive you to the doctor or wait while you have treatment, I am available and cheap (how’s free sound?)…I know it might be odd at first to call me or email (650-941-4341 or miatagano@gmail.com) – but my offer is sincere and genuine. I am very good at just sitting quietly and listening or not, or talking or not. Spent a lot of time in hospitals in the last 10 years with others. They’ve taught me how to be with them. Anyway, it’s an open offer call anytime :-)

  30. Mia Tagano says:

    ps that smile at the end of my note above, that one with the big crazy grin was not my choice. really meant for something more on the subtler side…sigh

  31. “try edibles for nausea.”

    Amen to that.

  32. Jaquelin says:

    I have to second the note from someone who recommended “edibles” for nausea, pain and
    other discomforts. Here in CA we have SO many choices. If you don’t want edibles but would
    be interested in a Tincture for nausea/pain, there are now many organic, lab tested medicines for your choosing.

    Thanks again for your wonderful and very helpful posts. Be well!

  33. Another voice in the chorus of thanks. I just discovered this blog today, and it just so happens that today is the day I really need it. Trying to support a good friend dealing with cancer on the other side of the country, knowing that she is in entering a rough period with less bounce back between chemo sessions, texting her a joke every day, because it’s something I can do from afar, that makes no demands, and will hopefully brighten her day.

    Your guidelines have really helped me align my head with where hers might be. So insightful and empowering. I will now always be sure to turn the control back to her, at this time when so many things are out of her control.

    Gotta go, need to spend the evening reading your archives!
    -e-

  34. Hi Elana & Glad you are home w/ the Parental units…Don’t forget Jewish penicillin * Chicken Soup,,,:-)

  35. Hi & Again Elana & Just wanted 2 make a quick observation * that your guest book or comments section ,has taken on a life of its own, kinda like a story within a story, as it were , if this were a novel & u the protagonist & your guestbook comments are another substory with in the story, like a Giant Wave of Love Speading all Over The World….:-)

  36. You’ve written eloquently on behalf of cancer patients. While I have little experience with cancer, I think this does apply well to patients of many kinds. My husband has a congenital heart condition and during some of his major hospitalizations I would have loved to have this list posted somewhere for all to see. Bad visits/broken promises/pushy advice/etc. can be especially devastating when you’re already exhausted in so many other ways. We had one woman in our lives continually insist we were fools for never considering a lawsuit when he suffered a minor (and correctable) complication after a major open-heart surgery! Not helpful, to say the least.

    Wishing you great success in your continued journey, and thank you for writing. I hope you’ve seen from the comments that while this blog is not about all of us, it has been beautiful and inspiring for many of us.

  37. Marianne G. says:

    I am printing your last two posts for future reference as I am sure I will need them again someday. My only close friend I knew with cancer, sadly lost her battle. I wish i would have had these then, they are so helpful.

  38. Dear Elana,

    Love your posts. Think of you often and thrilled that you are venturing outside the chemo rooms.

    I have been in treatment for breast cancer for six months. Most of my friends have disappeared during this time, except for one extraordinary person. Every day since my diagnosis, she has emailed me a “Thought of the Day.” Sometimes its, funny, sometimes very meaningful. But the great thing about this, every day for six months was a reminder that someone was thinking of me and took the time to unearth something to say. Also, I could read the “Thought of the Day” when I had the time. She never expected a response, just kept sending the daily email. I will never forget her kindness.

    Thank you,

    Joanne

  39. Elana,

    Thank you for this, I once read an article this past year about the idea of “dumping out” http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407
    which I found simplistic but really valid on a lot of levels. Sometimes the most obvious truths (dont dump your problems on someone who is in a big crisis, or dont tell someone who is sick you can do something you cant or dont really want to do) escape people.

    I have also worked in mental health (social work) and I think in my case that role translates a lot to my friendships, and so many people are so used to dumping that when I am struggling with major health and life problems they can’t help themsleves. I don’t know if it’s all them, or if I also naturally fall into leading questions, just hoping I can count on someone caring about me enough NOT to get carried away in unloading their lesser (I am sorry but they are lesser, ie frustrations with renovating ones new home, or petty fights with a partner, or a hard project at work) problems on me. Is it too much to ask to want to be a friend, and expect your friends to be just a little extra sensitive and selfless, even when I give a little? Its important to acknowledge that the other persons got something huge happening, I’ve seen people convince themselves that its more normal for you to pretend nothings wrong beyond a few “how are you feeling” questions, when I think its much more selfishly driven then they think.

    This was and is cathartic to read, and valuable for me as a friend to others.

    So happy you are feeling better. Good luck with the next round of chemo. Wishing you so much strength and even longer, healthier periods to come very soon!

  40. Hi Elana,

    It’s good to see you writing here again. Thank you for sharing this – I am about to go visit a friend who is very ill and I found your list and experiences to be very helpful.

  41. Eugenia Kayiannis says:

    Sending you my love <3
    I think we can make it through this, at least we're gonna do and be the best we can!

  42. Lindsey says:

    This post made me tear up. So eloquently put, I will be more sensitive and less selfish to the member in my family that is currently suffering from cancer.

  43. My girlfriend’s sister just told us yesterday that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thank you for this useful and instructive post.

  44. What a wonderfully practical post. I hope this reaches many and sinks in.

  45. Hi there,

    As a 10.5 year breast cancer survivor, you speak the gospel truth when it comes to care-givers and well meaning family members supporting a loved one with cancer. As far as my own round with the “c” beast went, I had to teach a lot of people how to deal with my diagnosis. Sometimes I think I helped them more than they help me ;-)

    Peggy Nolan
    Vanquish Fear. Slay Doubt. Be Fabulous
    http://peggynolan.com

Trackbacks

  1. […] Here is a brief list of how we can be helpful from an article written by someone who, unfortunately, really knows. […]

  2. […] Almost all of us will need this crucial advice at some point in our life:  How to Help Someone with Cancer. […]

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