How do you support a friend who is going through a serious illness?
It can be painful and difficult to learn that a friend has been diagnosed with a serious illness. You may feel that you don't know how best to help or sometimes even what to say. When someone close to you is seriously ill, the usual rules and responsibilities of a close relationship change. No longer will you have a 50-50 or even a 70-30 connection. Instead, for the duration of your friend's illness, you will need to carry at least 90 percent of the friendship, and your needs will come a distant second.
There will be times when your friend wants to speak only about their illness, and other times when s/he does not want to talk about it at all. So although you may think that the details and problems in your life are unimportant to someone who is struggling, there will be times that your friend will be desperate to have a normal conversation and want to hear all about your job or relationships. How will you know which time is which? Listen to your friend's cues.
But before you can help your friend, you need to help yourself so that you can be there for them. I am going to assume you are taking a Vitamin D and a Multi-Vitamin daily. But what you may not have thought about is a sleep aid or any kind of sleep and stress relief help. This is especially important if you are the primary care person. If you are not at your best, you can't expect to give your best! So, remember to take care of youself too.
Here are 10 specific suggestions that may help you support a friend:
1. Wait for your friend to bring up details about a recent blood draw or medical report. Don't ask questions; let her take the lead. If you don't know what to say, try the standard "You're in my thoughts and prayers" or "I think of you often, daily, etc."
2. Refrain from asking about the prognosis or, after treatment ends, whether the doctors know if the treatment has worked. They don't know. Only the safe passage of time will answer this question.
3. Saying things like, "Anyone could be hit by a bus tomorrow," is neither reassuring nor helpful. You'd be surprised at what some people say!
4. Respect your friend's individual experience. Do not tell her about others who sailed through chemotherapy or, alternatively, suffered each day of treatment.
5. Send cards, texts, e-mails and call often. You want your friend to know that you are thinking about her, and that she does not need to get back to you soon - or at all.
6. Call your friend if you are nearby or when heading out to run errands and ask if she needs anything.
7. Drop off a meal or do a carpool run or care for her children. A fabulous resource is
www.lotsahelpinghands.com. This is a private way to organize useful help among friends and community groups online.
8. Offer to do something specific rather than saying, "call me if you need something," and then offer again later. If you keep getting turned down, don't give up, offer to clean her house again and again.
9. Send a small care package occasionally. This can be a case of beer, bottle(s) of wine left in the fridge as a surprise, homemade banana bread with chocolate chips. An extra bottle of her favorite Aveeno product. A stuffed puppy that laughs when triggered by a clap or loud noise. There are also many natural health products can do wonders for your emotional health & theirs.
10. Ask your friend if she would like you to visit, or if she might like to come visit you. Don't assume that you know the best time to get together or when she most needs company and support.
This list of suggestions can easily apply to any friend in need who is going through a tough time, be it illness or loss. Be ready to be flexible. Most important, stay close. All seriously ill patients find that some so-called friends abandon them. Good friends are those who are with us for the duration, who listen carefully and who say, "I'm here."
Be Strong, Be Positive, Be Healthy!