Did My Friend Just Tell Me She Has Cancer?

The other day I was going along happily checking my Facebook in between commercials when I read something that pissed me off. I mean flaming mad. One of my sorority sisters from my college days just asked (via status update) for some positive energy. She needed it, because she has cancer. And nothing makes me more angry than someone I care about getting cancer.

Kick Cancer's Ass

Learn it. Live it. Love it.

I used to just get sad when someone told me they got the big C. It used to be rare and usually to an older person. When someone who has lived a fairly full life gets cancer, it sucks. You try to rationalize that they have had time on this Earth and have seen kids grow, grandchildren born, etc., yet it is still hard to deal with and manage your emotions.

But when it happens to someone on the younger side…to someone in the prime of their lives, it just doesn’t make sense. In my twenties when a friend my age was stricken with breast cancer, I was devastated. It just didn’t seem possible. Then it seemed to happen more and more, a few times a year. A high school classmate, a secretary at my kids’ school, my colleague, my girlfriend. It doesn’t discriminate and knows no boundaries.

I’ve found out over wine, via text, through Facebook — and it never gets easier to hear those words. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be the person delivering the news. I have cancer. It changes everything.

And it’s not bad enough that people I care about deeply are affected. Sometimes it’s their child, which I find both devastating and infuriating at the same time. It’s just not fair.

Most of the time, thankfully, my peeps rally and kick cancer in the ass. Big time. They laugh in its ugly face and give it the middle finger.

But sometimes they can’t, and they lose the war after fighting so many exhausting battles. This makes me angry, because these are people who don’t get to see their children grow up, or sometimes have children at all. These are people who were seemingly healthy until having a headache, a lingering cough, a lump. These are people who do not deserve cancer.

It all just makes me so angry. But I think I’m angry because cancer takes so much control out of the lives of its victims. And for those of us sitting on the sidelines, it makes us feel helpless and desperate. Desperate to help out in any way possible.

It is hard to know how to truly help someone fighting such an awful disease, or how to help the caretaker. I want to be there, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to help, but I don’t want to be a bother. I want to tell them something encouraging, but I don’t know what to say. I must do something, but sometimes I end up doing nothing.

Cancer Awareness

So, I spoke to some of my friends and family who are survivors.  The ones who have given cancer a swift kick in the cojones or are kicking its butt right this second. I asked what were/are the best ways friends can help…and was there anything that didn’t. Here’s what I found:

Reach out and be positive: Everyone I spoke with said the large outpouring of love and support they received from friends and family was critical to getting their treatment off to a good start, and keeping them positive during the down days. Particularly to those patients who are immunocompromised or on bed rest, e-mails, texts and phone calls were sometimes the only contact they had with the outside world.

Sometimes keeping it simple is best when speaking to a cancer patient. “I’m so sorry” can be extremely effective, as could “Cancer Sucks,” “I’m coming over with alcohol,” “Let’s have cake,” and “I love you.”

But while support is needed, try to hold back from saying,“Everything will be OK” — at least at first. According to one friend: “It’s a natural statement to blurt out, but it makes the person shut down from feeling their fears and worries don’t want to be heard.” Keep it upbeat by asking general questions, and if you are unsure, just ask if he/she would like to discuss it. If they say no, give them the room and don’t take it personally.

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