Blog

Advice for helping a friend with terminal cancer

For almost a year, I’ve been battling appendix cancer. “Battling” is an apt verb to use when referring to cancer. It is a physical and mental fight, and really, if you ask me, it’s more of a mental struggle than anything else. Some say it’s the lonliest battle; it doesn’t have to be, though. That’s up to each individual and how they choose to share their diagnosis. I respect each person’s decision to choose what is right for them. For me, going public and garnering support has helped me immensley this year. I can’t imagine trudging forward any other way.

While I was quite public with my rare cancer, wanting the world to know that appendix cancer exists so that there is more awareness, I kept the fact that I was stage 4 private. Why? Because I knew if that information went public, people would automatically look at me like I was a walking death sentence, and gosh, that’s so bad for one’s morale. I remember someone asking me (people get real funny with their impertinence) what stage I was. And, I skirted the issue, saying, “What does stage matter?” Because, at the time, I didn’t want this acquaintance to know my secret because I knew his reaction would be the look I was dreading: head tilted to the side, the cancer whisper voice and words of pity. Nope, not for me!

I’ll often have people saying that they don’t know what to say to me. There is not a manual out there for this, but I thought, well, gee, I’m a writer, certainly I can offer some sage advice on how to talk to people who are terminal. The irony is, we’re all terminal: we just don’t know what our time-frame is. But for me, I have an idea of how long I have left to grace this land, which is a blessing and, well, it’s not. Sometimes it’s really annoying and upsetting to know I won’t get to grow old with my husband.

We, all of us, are going to die one day. People get funny when the topic of death is broached. I often make jokes about my prognosis because that is who I am, and sometimes, people can’t handle it. That’s their issue. I’m living my truth, and part of keeping my sanity is my sense of humor. I had great examples growing up: my parents were the epitome of grace, love, and laughing when all else fails. What wonderful examples to give me as I move forward.

If you know someone who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, there are things you can do to help. For one, please, please, for the love of all things holy, do not offer them advice on alternative treatments. IE) Drinking vitamin water or eating grass pooped on by sacred donkeys. Sarcasm. But you wouldn’t believe what kind of messages my husband and I received after I went public with my prognosis. Here’s why it’s so upsetting: if I had wanted the advice, I would have asked for it. And, I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent woman who researched the crap out of this cancer. Heck, I went to THE Specialists for my rare cancer. So, for unsolicited advice to come my way, well it made it seem like I was a quitter and wasn’t smart enough to do my own research. I’m sure there is no harm meant in people offering their opinions, but not every cancer is the same and not every alternative treatment works. Respect the person with cancer and know that if they want your advice, they will ask for it.

Continue to treat the person like you would if they weren’t terminal. I can’t tell you how much I love the fact that sometimes my husband and I quarrel – over stupid stuff, of course. But, it makes me feel like I’m normal. I’ll often have friends say “I’m so afraid I’ll say the wrong thing.” There are no right words; there are right actions. Just be there for them. Make plans with them to do something. Stop by and visit. Text. Call. That’s more medicinal for the soul than anything else.

Some people in my life can’t deal with my diagnosis. Quite frankly, it’s frustrating, because, hey, I’m the one dealing with this and I’m dealing with it quite well. I’m at peace. So, everyone else around me should be, too. If you have a friend in a similar situation, pull yourself up by your boot straps and slap yourself silly into a state of acceptance, because not being there because of your own issues isn’t going to help. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed in the friends and loved ones department. I might have the crappiest cells on the planet, but I’ve sure been blessed with beautiful people in my life, and for me, that has made things all the sweeter.

It’s okay to broach the subject with your friend. If they are open to talking about it, let them. It’s therapeutic for both of you. Know that just by listening, you are giving them a gift. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people in my life treating me with respect and offering me support just by being there.

This is just my opinion, and I can only tell you what’s been helpful for me. But, I wanted to write something because I felt compelled to help should you ever have a friend in a similar situation. My hope is that one day, cancer won’t exist. That it’ll be a disease of the past. It’s an ugly disease that affects beautiful souls. That we all know is true. And while most of us laymen (who aren’t medical specialists) can’t offer up a cure, we can offer what we have: a kind and caring heart to those who need it most.