I read this article today. “What your friends with Cancer wants you to know (but are afraid to say)”And all I can say is that this is exactly right. http://roadkillgoldfish.com/friends-cancer-want-know/
I have spent a lot of my nursing career taking care of and helping patients and families through the most harrowing time of their lives due to cancer. I have spent nights with patients, reading to them until they passed, I have spent hours with family saying their last good byes and trying to keep the sounds of that dying patient from upsetting them even more. I have seen the deep dark underbelly of this disease and faced it head on with my patients. I thought I have done the hardest thing anyone can do. I was mistaken.
It wasn’t until my very dear husband’s dad and soon after my very special friend was diagnosed and I had to go through this hell from a family / friend perspective. That is when I realized that as a nurse I had it good. I had the perspective of a medical professional. I could put on that hat and distance myself emotionally from the patient and family. I could explain away the pain and discomfort. I could go home in the evenings and leave them at the hospital. Now, from where I am standing, I have to deal with this on the level of losing a loved one, seeing a very special person go through the most terrifying, exhausting and painful experience ever. I have to stand by and watch while poison fills their veins and the disease takes their passion, their existence and leaves me with nothing but disgust for this plague that is hitting me where it hurts most.
This article describes the things that I have talked to my friend a lot about. This explains why whenever I called her; I did not ask ‘how are you feeling’. I did not tell her that she is strong, or brave, I let her cry and cried with her. I said I’m sorry and meant it; I listened when she wanted to go on and on about baseball or the sunset last night. It didn’t matter that I wanted to hold her and tell her it will all be ok, all that mattered was that I was able to bring a little bit of normal to her otherwise completely abnormal situation. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that from the family / friend perspective, we want to be the worriers, we want to be telling them what to do and what not to do, we want to steer them through a very deceptive maze, we want to make them feel better. What they need is exactly the opposite. Leave that stuff to the nurses and the oncologists. We need to be their normal. Going for pedicures, talking about ourselves, letting them feel we need their advice, doing silly things and taking pictures. Making memories gives them a purpose and meaning in the time when they might feel very much defeated by this disease. We have to let them deal with it in their own way, just listen and be there. No judgment, no expectations, no plans, just be there. It goes against our nature though to just sit back and act like everything is normal. We are prone to talk about the big elephant in the room and all they want to do is not discuss it. The other thing that I have learned is that when our friends and family is going through this fight, they want us to be healthy and not get sick. So they become the healer of all healers. They talk about preventions, and healthy eating habits, and staying out of the sun and all of the other things that they can find about staying healthy. This is their way of protecting the ones they love the most. It gets a bit tedious sometimes, but we have to let them save us. They are in a situation where they can’t necessarily save themselves or feel helpless towards themselves and we have to let them save us for themselves. Again giving them purpose.
One of my patient’s daughters asked me one time, ‘what can I do for mom’? ‘How can I help her’, and I told her to bring her old photo albums and look through them with her, talk about the happy times, to bring her favorite books and read to her, I told her to sit with her, hold her hand and just be. When her mom eventually passed away on my night shift, she came in to say goodbye after and she sat with me at the nurses desk and started crying, thanking me for the memories I made her have with her mom. She said even though she is sad that she is gone, she is at peace with the fact that she had quality time with her before she went.
So that is my message today. Treat your cancer family member / friend like a normal person. Do normal things with them. Spend time with them doing mundane things. This is what they want. Leave the cancer talk and the medical talk to the doctors and nurses and just be their friend, parent, spouse, and child. Take nothing for granted and celebrate everything. Even the small things.