A while ago I wrote an article on the language surrounding severe illness. There is a section on What Not To Say to someone with cancer or another life-threatening illness. Anyway: various people commented along the lines of “that’s all very well, but what helps? What would you, or your parents or brother like us to say or do?”
And now, as another period of treatment looms, am going to attempt to write some ideas down. Often, when someone asks what I/ we want or need am unable to come up with a specific thing. So: here goes:
1. Please read this blog as regularly as possible. That’s the most important thing. Otherwise we end up having the same chat with lots of people: “No, they don’t know if it’s spread yet. No, we don’t know what they’re planning to do yet” and so on. Repeating ourselves again and again is boring, frustrating and a waste of our limited mental and physical resources. Pretty much all that transpires with the doctors is in here, so please keep up to date with it. Also: often will say am fine as just don’t want to go over it all again as it’s so dull. The blog contains my actual feelings and those of my parentals (or my interpretation of how they are feeling anyway). If you hit the “email follow” button, each new blog arrives in your inbox. It takes a couple of minutes per day to read it, if that. If you make one change, make it this one. Read the blog everyday.
2. Some people have a website or Facebook page where they write details of their treatment. This is a great idea. So if your friend/ relative has one of these pages, check it regularly.
3. Don’t be offended if your ill friend/ relative cancels plans at the last minute, won’t make plans and so on. Chances are, it’s nothing personal. Scans, appointments and even operations can turn up at the last minute. Biopsy results can necessitate a sudden change of treatment. There are often many different doctors involved. At the moment, am seeing my plastic surgeon, breast surgeon, oncologist, psychiatrist and they all have different clinics and timetables and so on. So please don’t say “I’m really busy: you can’t just cancel our plan at the last minute,” if you want to see your ill/ friend relative again. Lucky you to be busy and to be able to plan ahead etc.
4. Lifts to and from events are one of the most helpful things. Quite often, would like to get out but just don’t feel up to the vagaries of public transport. So, if a party/ concert/ play is coming up and you’re thinking about driving, please offer to pick me up/ take me home. It makes such a difference. It’s one less thing to worry about. This may well be the case even if your sick friend/ relative is a driver: they may well not want the stress of it at the moment.
5. Would love lifts to and from the supermarket and company in there. So if you’re going food shopping nearby, please send a text message to see if would like to come with. Going-to-the-shops is important for social contact and is beneficial for my mental disorder. It needs to get out of the house and run around and talk to people.
6. Text, Facebook message or email is better than a phone call at the moment. Hardly ever answer the phone as am in hospital often or writing this blog on my phone with the ringer turned off. The hospitals call all the time so need to keep phone free in case it is someone phoning about a scan or something. Also: if you text or email, there is a record of the offer of help or the arrangement that can refer back to as can’t remember much these days. It can’t hurt to text a reminder on the day if the plan was made a while ago as chemotherapy and other treatments can cause memory loss.
7. If you are going somewhere that is nice, don’t assume that your sick friend won’t/ can’t come. Please message me up to the last minute with any invitations: often would love to get out and do something fun. Have had people saying “oh I just assumed you wouldn’t want to come.” Don’t. And, as mentioned earlier, last minute is great as planning ahead isn’t working well at the moment.
8. Sometimes the ill person will want to talk about treatment/ death/ aches and pains/ whether they will see past pets in the next world and so on. Is annoying when people say “oh you’re not going to die. Don’t talk like that.” We are all going to die. There is nothing wrong with talking about it. The more we talk about death and dying, the less taboo it will become. Obviously, if your sick friend/ relative has a terminal or life-threatening illness, they will think about death. There’s no point in pretending that the Grim Reaper isn’t sitting on their sofa, helping himself to their coffee and sharpening his scythe, waiting. It can be a comforting thought. Soon these terrible sufferings will be over. Unless, of course, the dead pets are in a different place. But let’s assume that they’re not.
9. Offers of DVDs are always welcome. Must manage a good three to eight hours of TV some days. Write this blog in front of it. If anyone has I, Claudius, that would be nice. Chances are, anyone with a severe illness will appreciate new things to watch.
10. If you offer to do something, and the ill person rejects the offer, don’t take it personally. For example: have read in other lists “offer to cook your sick friend a meal”. However, most of the time want to cook for myself. It’s one of the few things that am still able to do. Enjoy cooking. Enjoy eating own food in comfort of own home. Sometimes is lovely to be invited to someone’s house for dinner, and sometimes just want to make self an omelette and eat it whilst watching a nice murder.
11. Don’t forget that my parentals and brother are suffering too. In fact, in some ways it is worse for them. They don’t have this blog or the prospect of morphine (yay) and lots of time spent lying around the house in hospital pants, photographing the fluffy monster, playing on Tinder and watching “The Last Nazis” all day. They have to do all their usual activities with no-one being kind to them because they’re terminally ill. So if you’re thinking of doing a nice thing for one of them, please do it.
12. Send presents or cards. Is always nice not to be forgotten by the postman.
13. Am able/ willing to go to gym alone. Some very ill people need more help/ encouragement/ support with exercise. So offer to go for a walk with them or to take them to a gym class. Don’t assume that if someone is having unpleasant medical treatment they won’t want to exercise: many young breast cancer people are spin instructors, personal trainers or just very fit and determined to keep exercising throughout treatment.
14. Yesterday, did a silk painting class (photo of the resulting work attached). This was brilliant. See if your ill friend/ relative wants to do an art or craft experience. It’s absorbing and not hard physical work. Can do it sitting down. If it’s a new skill, has the added benefit of them not getting frustrated about not-being-as-good-at-drawing-as-they-were-twenty-years-ago etc.
*1934 novel by James M Cain. Became a 1946 film starring Lana Turner and John Garfield.