Supporting a Cancer Patient
Cancer. The word that everyone fears and doctors dread. In 2014, that word became all too real when my 15 year old cousin was diagnosed with Leukemia. In 24 hours, she went from high school to hospital. A place she wouldn't leave for five months.
As family and friends, how do we handle these situations? How do we support someone who has cancer? How do we love them through it without being insensitive or ignorant or the exact opposite of encouraging?
I got to talk with Madi about what helped and hurt through her cancer journey. We have good intentions but now, we can have good words too. Although every story is different, here is her advice.
"Don't roll around in pity for me - it makes me feel sick. People are acting like I'm dying but I'm not planning on it. I need to feel resilient so that I can be."
Compare stories of someone else's journey. In trying to relate, some will say that they "understand because they know someone else that had cancer too." Every story is different and unless you're a fellow survivor, you don't truly understand.
Ignore facing the negativity. We want to lift spirits but in trying to be positive, we can be insensitive. "You look to cute bald," "At least you don't get your period anymore," "I wish I could be out of school for a year," "Well at least you get to watch movies in the hospital." These comments are more hurtful than helpful. Cancer isn't positive and that's okay to admit. Try speaking words of encouragement instead of sappiness.
Make offers unless you're willing to keep them. When the news about the diagnosis first breaks, people promise a lot of things. Meals, money, time. After the dust settles, few actually 'stick.' Don't make empty promises.
Act like you're best friends. Plenty of people show support when they find out the news. "They post about it like they'll never leave your side but the moment you're better, you never hear from them again."
Say something. Even though it's hard to find the words, it's better to say something than to nothing at all.
Be around. Don't treat patients differently. Stay connected throughout the whole process. Just be there. Don't pressure them to talk or hang out but with calls, cards, or drop-by's, just be there. Each day, they may need something different than they did the day before.
Let them feel how they feel. Some days are hard. Some days are better. But there are a lot of emotions either way. Sometimes anger and sadness need to be felt. Let it be.
Be sensitive and understanding. Even after remission, the affects of cancer linger. There is mental and emotional baggage that comes along with recovery. Chemo brain. Neurological testing. Arguing with school boards. Meetings with fertility specialists. The road is long and support is always needed.
Be there for the family. Do laundry. Walk the dog. Babysit. Fundraise. Do what you can to help the patient's family, even if its not glamorous.
By the grace of God, Madi is now two years in remission, living in Austin, and working her way into nursing school. She speaks all over the country, talking about how her life was saved by someone who got on the donor list and how others can do the same.