During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are asked to support and honor women from all over who are living with the disease. Whether it’s wearing your pink ribbon, donating to Living Beyond Breast Cancer, or simply talking with a friend or loved one who has been diagnosed, you are doing your part. Today, the LBBC Blog welcomes back avid writer, Randi Rentz, as she discusses the ups and downs of comforting a newly diagnosed woman.
A friend called recently. She had just learned that another friend of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. She could not stop crying after she received the news and had not yet called our friend to offer her…what? What is the right thing to say? What, as a good friend, do you do? My friend called me, thinking I had all the correct answers. She wanted to know if she should stop by our friend’s house (in between sobs). She also wanted to know if she should leave her alone. Seriously. What to say? What to do?
As a survivor, I was touched by the many people who reached out to me, but sometimes, I really had to wonder, what people were thinking. I should have written down some of the things people said to me. Wishful thinking. Although people had good intentions during my diagnosis, I really yearned for friends and acquaintances to “Think Pink” before speaking the “Pink Language.” Let’s face it, my friends were well-meaning, but I was irked.
As we all know, pink is the universal color for breast cancer. It is everywhere. I’ve always loved the color pink, all tones, tints and tinges of it. What can I say? I’m a girlie-girl who loves any shade of pink; especially hot pink. It’s way bolder than blush-and not the least bit bashful. Although I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, the color pink, please don’t tell me pink is my color; especially the same day of my diagnosis. Yup.
Empathy is wonderful, but please don’t say, “You MUST live!” (Duh!!!) or “Are you going to die?” (Geez!!!) And, PU-LEAZZZE don’t say, “My aunt, friend and/or grandmother died of breast cancer.” Ugh!
(I digress…sorry) To be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted other than to inch into my bedroom and wait for my doctor to call me with the next bit of medical information. I was completely self-centered (totally deserved.) I did not think about whether or not I wanted my friends to call, so in hindsight, I can see what a predicament the situation put them in.
So now I know you are thinking uh oh. What did Randi say to her friend who called her or what if I call a sick friend and say the wrong thing? What if I give them words of support and they want to say something snarky to me? Or, what if I bawl my eyes out when I hear her voice?
I can only tell you based on my own journey into “Cancerville” what I think might be just the right thing to do. Here is my short list of do’s and don’ts:
- DON’T make remarks about your friend’s lifestyle. Keep your comments such as “How can you not know that by smoking you were putting yourself at risk?” to yourself. People need to come to their own conclusions about themselves.
- DO Listen. You are there to give your love and support.
- DON’T ask your friend if you can bring a meal or help somehow.
- DO say I’m going to take your carpool days. What time do you pick up the kids from school? Or, I am bringing over a meal for Sunday. What time works for you? Whether it’s a carpool, a doctor’s appointment, a meal or an errand, make yourself available, and be specific about what and/or how you will be helping your friend. Just DO it! My dearest friend made a meal chart, sent it out to all my friends via email and had everybody sign up for a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) during my entire treatment. She really earned her golden angel wings for taking charge!
- DON’T say, “You are going to be fine!” That was the one-liner that really irritated me. In fact, any reference to being fine can magnify the situation. Do you know for sure that your friend will be fine?
- DO say, “I’ll be here to support you during and after your treatment. Enough said.
- DON’T call your friend and unveil the story of how you heard the cancer news, where you were when you found out, how you were told and how upset you are. Also, please don’t say, “Why didn’t you call me right away?” Please remember, this isn’t about you and your feelings, it is about how much you want to support your friend. All of the other details can come later. As she processes her experience I practically guarantee that she will want to tell you anyway.
- DO call your friend and offer your support and encouragement. You can open the conversation like this: “Oh Dee! I just heard that you are sick. How are you doing?” It’s really not so horrible to cry, as long as you don’t make the conversation about you.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I believe people saw me differently. Deep down I knew that I was still me, and I wanted to be treated the same as ALWAYS. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t believe I had a diagnosis of DCIS. Breast Cancer? ME? Being sick is so overwhelming, that to have friends come along and lift you out of many overshadowing thoughts, even for 30 minutes, is TRULY wonderful. It made me feel almost normal. Doesn’t normal feel so good?
As I said, I am not an expert. I know only how I felt during my journey into ”The Pink Bubble.” I think as a whole, the dos and don’ts are great guiding principles to stick to. As a friend, your role is to support, help and send love. That pretty much sums it up.