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It doesn’t cost you anything to be a consistent supporter of your friends and family suffering with cancer and other life changing medical events.
Be there and be consistent. That’s really all it takes.
Cancer, cancer, cancer
Sometimes I feel like that’s all I talk about. It shouldn’t be surprising though, because cancer is a life changing event.
In my case, I am the parent of a child with cancer. Being the parent of such a child is a very strange combination of emotions and factors.
So, though this is going to be from a less common perspective as a parent, the points are valid for dealing with anyone you know suffering a life changing medical event.
My unique position
As the parent of a sick child, especially a toddler or preschooler, you are the patient by proxy. You do everything for your child. In my case, every single night my son has spent in a hospital bed, I spent it with him. Every time he puked, I was there to catch it (and often noticed before he did). Every time the IV alarm went off, I was the one to silence it and page the nurse. And so on. My body didn’t suffer the effects of chemotherapy and radiation and more. But my son’s mind didn’t suffer the knowledge that I have. I’ve had so many sleepless nights.
It’s a strange place to be in your life. Your world is breaking and it is your job to keep things under control and try to be the light your child needs. They look to you for everything.
Who do cancer parents look to?
For me, it’s been mostly my online friends and community. I’ve been surprised to see which “real” relationships have lasted through this. It’s also been very surprising to see which ones have mostly dropped off, while ones I wouldn’t have expected have become much more important to me.
There was a meme posted today by @TheCancerPatient on Instagram that made me laugh, because it is all too true.
What’s my community?
Now, not actually having cancer myself, and, “cancer parent” being kind of a niche role, I don’t have a lot of “cancer friends” online. I can’t joke quite as callously and explain the suffering that an adult has. I don’t entirely relate. Also, I haven’t found a huge community myself among other parents with cancer.
Cancer Parents, little time for each other.
Being a parent to a child with cancer is extremely difficult. As such, it is no surprise to me that we don’t have time for each other as cancer parents. I have a handful of people I keep up with and check in on. For a variety of reasons, however, I don’t have the energy to deal with other parents regularly. Though I can relate to other cancer parents, the points of connection are… strange.
As I have grown to feel like a “veteran” I sometimes find I can reach out to support new families. I can see myself in their position and offer some insights and support I wish I had had. Day to day however, support lacks all around.
My online world.
I have found a lot of support in my general online community, especially among other bloggers. No where has my son seen more support than from people we have never met.
This support from “strangers” has been one of the more complicated emotional points for me. It has highlighted, often, how lacking my “real” relationships are when it comes to supporting me and celebrating my son.
Are my real life relationships that bad? I don’t know. The thing is, as evidenced by the meme I shared above, this lack of “IRL” support isn’t news to those suffering.
Is it a matter of, like so many things, that the internet just seems to allow us to connect on a deeper level and at a point when both parties are receptive to it? I can throw out how I’m feeling and whoever is feeling it back can reply? Maybe.
Why is real life so hard?
Real connections seem to often end up in the reverse comforting situation, where we assure them we are ok. Even though, really, we’re not. But, the ways we’re not ok aren’t really ways they can help much.
Or maybe it’s because we are exhausted and overwhelmed and don’t have the energy to to be any kind of normal. Really, it’s like a terrible kind of depression. You just don’t know where to start and everything seems really hard to get any momentum going. With online community, they are seeing your daily ups and downs. Real life connections don’t even know the half of what’s going on and … jeeze… where do you even start.
There you have a somewhat stream of consciousness thought process on why maintaining connections is hard.
As the “outsider” friend here’s what you can do about it:
BE THERE. That’s it. It’s that simple.
And keep it simple.
Connect regularly. Be thoughtful of who is there to comfort who. A no strings attached check in is best. “Hey, I don’t expect a return call (or text), but I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you if you want to chat.”
And then a month later “summer is coming around, let me know if you might want to go for a walk or grab coffee.”
Two months later “Just thinking of you as “Kid’s” birthday comes near.”
Please be mindful of how draining phone calls can be
Feel free to call, but, text or email too. It lets someone address you when they have the mental energy to do so and they can prep for it.
Don’t forget to offer physical means of support at times too
Let me be clear – I would hope that for your friends and family you offer more direct means of support, especially upfront when life seems to be utter chaos and nothing makes sense.
However, as time goes on, and the new reality sets in, most families figure out how to feed themselves again. What they don’t have anymore is connection. When you’re in so deep with the hardships of life, it can be hard to surface to find a friend when you have a moment to take a breath.
Remind people that you’re there so they can reach for you when the time and inclination are there.
It doesn’t hurt to continue to let them know how you want to help too. Early on, pride and guilt can get in the way of accepting support. As time goes on, I’ve gained more comfort in being able to accept help, though, I still won’t usually ask. So please do remind people, whatever it is, of ways you can help.
“I’m running to town, anything quick I can grab for you at the store?” and so on. These little messages let people know you’re thinking of them and let them know you are there if they need you.
It really doesn’t take much.
It’s not about you, right?
Now, I get that you might begin to feel rejected and ignored. But remember, this isn’t about you. You’re not trying to date someone. The point is to show you are there and show you care. To connect with someone who might not know how to make a connection for themselves right now.
Let them talk to you.
And did you notice I didn’t say ask how they are doing? I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but in my experience, the people who check in with me often get an earful whether they want it or not. They have gained my confidence and trust and I feel I can unload on them without them feeling the pressure to do something about it. Remember that guilt I talked about? The last thing I want to do when share my feelings and stresses is to be worried that person is going to feel like they HAVE to do something about it for me.
I hope this helps you better navigate with your loved ones who are suffering
These are my takes, from my personal experience.
If you know someone really well, or already have a very active involved relationship, you may know better ways to approach the situation. But, it seems more and more these days that we have few “solid” connections and a lot of loose acquaintances.
How you approach someone in the midst of their suffering is what can change the relationship from friendly acquaintance into a true friendship, or just another person that they, kind of, want to avoid.Me, who now avoids a fair amount of previous acquaintances