What to do and what not to do.
I must be bipolar or something. A part of me wants to curl up in bed and never get up again to face what is ahead of me. The other part of me wants to just start riding south, down to Baja and continue all the way to Ushuaia, the tip of Argentina, cross Drake passage to Antarctica and sit among the penguins for the rest of my life. I want to get as far away from all this shit but I know it will follow me to the end of the earth.
So, instead I get up and I take the dogs for a morning walk around the block. I run into a friend. I see the fear in her eyes. I smile bravely and give her a hug to put her at ease: “I’ll be fine. This is just a bump in the road!” and I graciously accept an offer for a casserole for dinner.
The truth is though, it doesn’t at all feel just like a bump in the road. It’s frightening and I am flooded with all kinds of emotions. Despair, bewilderment, hopelessness, fear, sadness. Your friends' way of coping is that they definitely want to help and do things for you. Let them. I don’t know why, but they all want to feed you. Yes, food is comforting to make and to receive, but eating was the last thing on my mind. My stomach was in knots and just the thought of food made me nauseous. I lost the most weight leading up to treatments. Anxiety caused by tests and waiting for results was the hardest. Although, the food was welcome because I didn’t have to worry about cooking for my family. I also received numerous messages: “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” I know I’ve said that to people myself, but it doesn’t work. If you are like me, I hate asking for anything. If you really want to help, just do it. Some helpful things you can do for a friend in need:
Get your friend a gift certificate for a massage. I loved massages throughout my treatments. My friend Kristen Peppin who owns North Lake massage and skin care, practiced oncology massage on me. I will forever be grateful.
Another very special person in my life that has been an incredible gift throughout this journey is Marty Schoonmaker. She is the most amazing PT and a great friend.
Our cancer facility offers all kinds of services like massage, acupuncture, yoga, counseling..... We are very fortunate to have such a progressive facility. It just so happens that my friends Polly Triplat, who was already my massage therapist, and Tyler Lapkin, who was my acupuncturist prior to cancer, also worked at the cancer center. I don't know how I'd get through everything without this special team. I am so very grateful I live in this amazing community and am surrounded by incredible people.
If a friend doesn't have a spouse or other close family members, offer rides to treatments and doctor appointments and take notes for her or him. Taking notes at meetings with doctors is crucial. It really is true that once you leave the office, you won't remember much.
Nail spa gift certificates are also great. A friend of mine actually came over and did my nails for me at home- I loved it!
Come over and help clean the house, just ask when the best time is or get together with friends and hire professional cleaning service.
Go for a walk with him or her. Movement as difficult as it is, is crucial.
Send a simple text: “ I love you, thinking of you!” I’ve been lucky I’ve received texts like that out of the blue. I am not much for long chats or small talk, but that’s just me. And oh my god you guys, I received more hats and scarves I knew what to do with. Yes, I wore many because my head was really cold once my hair was gone. The ones I cherished the most though were the ones that were knitted by hand for me. Even if they looked goofy, I knew they were made with love. LOVE is what you need the most. Really! Just random acts of love. Another friend brought silly trashy magazines. The ones you wouldn’t be caught alive buying.
Make sure you respect your friend’s privacy and just drop something by and leave at the front door if you came unannounced. Maybe she’s not in the mood for a visit, but she will know you love her because there was a bottle of really nice lotion hanging on the door.
Flowers. I loved getting flowers of all sorts. They always brightened my mood and they still do. Simple gifts and cards made by friend’s and family’s kids were precious. It’s also a great way to open conversations especially with younger kids, who might be frightened by the big C word.
Another great thing you can do is call your friend up and ask: ”Hey, on my way to the grocery store. Need anything?” Again, it’s the thought that counts.
My dear, dear friend who is a hairdresser, cut my hair short for free. Another amazing friend joined me during the haircut and we had a blast.
I also received plenty of unsolicited advice on why I shouldn't go the way of traditional medicine. "Chemo is bad for you! If cancer won't kill you, chemo will! It is big pharma conspiracy and they are just after your money. " Yup, people actually said that to me. I believe in natural healing, the power of positive thinking and good clean diet, but I also believe in science and I wasn't up to experiment on myself. I didn't want to say to my kids two-three years down the road if cancer spread: "I wish I did chemo and radiation."
Oh, by the way, if you are one of those people who I run into in the grocery store and I can barely stand on my feet because I had my third chemo three days ago and you go on and on for half an hour about how your life sucks because you broke up with your boyfriend with whom you fought constantly for the last three years and you tell me all the terrible things he did to you and what an asshole he is, well next time I see you in the store, I’ll avoid you like a plague and hide in a walk-in freezer till you are gone.