When I told people that I was getting treatment for breast cancer I generally got one of the following responses from people.
1: A list of colleagues or relatives who had it and survived. Or died.
2: Famous people who had it and survived. Or died.
We all try to make sense of things that are unusual by trying to link them or anchor them to something in our experience. Hence the “S at my work had it and she’s doing fine 20 yrs on”. It isn’t worth trying to explain different grades, types, stages and prognosis . The reality is one size of breast cancer does not fit all. Your cousins neighbours sister’s type will probably have been different in some way or other. But I still heard about it.
The same applies to celebrity cancer . I got a list of celebs including ” your woman off The Killing” “That ginger one-off Sex and the City” , ” her off Loose Women” and of course ….Kylie Minogue. “Look at how great Kylie is now, she’s just done a World Tour”. I got that a lot.
Anyway I’ve taken time out from planning MY world tour in order to note down some things that are helpful in supporting someone though treatment for cancer.
Offers to help with school run, child minding or shopping.
Texts or emails. Gossip, everyday chat or stories. These keep you focused even on days when you feel so rough you can’t speak.
Turning up with meals on the day of /after chemo. My neighbour did this each time and it really made a difference. Simple things like chicken bakes, lasagne, casseroles. These were brilliant.
Entertainment: books, magazines , DVDs- these are great. Don’t have to rush out and buy anything. Just share what you have that you think may be of interest.
Staring at the person with a sad look on your face. I’ve had this. It isn’t pleasant to be the object of pity, especially when you don’t feel you need to be pitied.
Crying. I felt guilty that I made 3 different people cry by telling them I was having treatment. Contain your emotions people.
Telling the person about every death you’ve known from cancer. Or tragic stories . Really not helpful. I also got one or two who had watched The C-Word on TV then said ‘I thought of you’. Again, there are lots of variations within the diagnosis.
Telling a person they ‘look fantastic’ with a surprised expression. I get this a lot. I must have looked really rough prior to my diagnosis then.
Staring at the persons boobs, even if it’s a subconscious act. It has happened quite a bit to me. Even though I’ve said it was only a lumpectomy and I am luckily not much different, I’ve still had to restrain myself from saying “eyes UP” . Please don’t.
Telling a person they are ‘brave’ or ‘a survivor’. Or they are ‘battling’. Nonsense. I’m just me, having some treatment. It hasn’t altered who I am . Likewise having a diagnosis does not make you a saintly “victim” . If you were a bitch before diagnosis, you’ll still be a bitch after. It isn’t an excuse for special treatment from the world around you. Even though at times I wanted to whip the wig off Mo Mowlam style and stamp my feet to get treated like a princess for once. 😉
Most helpful thing to do
Treat the person as normal. Talk to them as normal. Plan to do things as normal, when you can. Don’t always talk about treatment. And…please don’t mention Kylie. Again.