Your friend has just been diagnosed with cancer. She is facing decisions about surgery, chemotherapy, and perhaps radiation too. Her doctors are discussing lymph nodes and biopsies. References are made to oncologists that specialize in some particular aspect of cancer treatment. And the whole process is just overwhelming…
And that’s when you enter the picture. You are the co-worker. This is someone you see at church regularly. Perhaps this is a close friend. What exactly what will say to this person whom you care about? This person IS your friend, so here are some things you absolutely will not say or do.
· You are not going to refer to your cousin that that died from the same diagnosis. Believe it or not that is just not helpful. Your friend does not need to hear about your deceased cousin’s cancer journey. You will keep thoughts about your cousin to yourself.
· You are not going to tell your friend what a lousy doctor they have chosen. And furthermore, you are not going to extol the merits of your aunt Sue’s physician. You will only give out references for an appropriate doctor if asked by your friend.
· You absolutely would never dream of asking probing questions about treatment strategies, or surgical choices. Your friend will volunteer what information he wants to share in that regard. He may choose not share any of those plans. After all, that is his choice.
· And of course you will avoid telling your friend about traveling to ___________(name your country) for experimental treatment. I know your neighbor’s brother-in-law had great success with such interventions, but as a rule such offers are not helpful.
· You will avoid researching the internet regarding your friend’s diagnosis. If you do such research, you will be tempted to share your findings with her. Here is a reality check: your name is not followed by the letters, MD. Your medical findings are simply not useful.
Here is what you will do for your friend. You will ask him simple questions like: “how are you doing today?” And when your friend is hospitalized or going through the chemotherapy treatments, you will you show up and mow the grass at her house. Small gifts are always a nice gesture. Text messages delivered consistently as the days go by that simply say: “I am thinking about you” are a source of encouragement. Such messages are delivered with no expectation of a reply. The ability to sit in complete silence with your friend is an often overlooked, but priceless gift.
Consistency and thoughtfulness are words to remember. Be consistent in your efforts. This illness is not going away overnight. And think very carefully before acting or speaking. Your friend is hurting. And he is likely scared. It’s a time to practice compassion like never before.
And of course don’t forget, there ARE things you would never say or do