Meet Jen Anand. Every week Jen will be providing a new tip or two on approaching life during and after cancer to help inspire others. Jen was diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2012, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for 8 months. Jen is now a survivor and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary this year as cancer free!
I enjoy people, most of the time. Being so isolated in the hospital without my family or friends was really, really hard. I so appreciated when most people visited me! But each of us is different, and the visitors we get are going to be different…
The Chatty Kathy: Talk incessantly about everyone and everything and all the stuff that’s been going on!!
Pros: These friends are great about keeping you updated about the non-cancer world and taking your mind of cancer.
Cons: Sometimes you don’t want to talk to anyone! Silence can be golden.
In the long gaping hours of loneliness, these friends come in clutch. I currently use these types of people on my long drives. These friends are engaging, and enthusiastic. If you’re having a bad day, these friends can take your mind off the present circumstances.
The Silent Sam: Sit quietly because they don’t know what to say.
Pros: They’re silent, so it’s a great friend if you need to talk.
Cons: They’re silent. So if you don’t feel like talking…it’s a silent fest.
These type friends are incredible because they show-up. I know they’ve had to overcome their own fears just to come to my room, but I appreciate that they made the effort. Often, these people are silent because they don’t know what to say, but they want to be there for you. These friends have good hearts. Give them some guidance on topics that you are comfortable talking about. They often have many questions about your diagnosis and current status, but don’t want to intrude and ask you. Let them know if you are OK with them asking questions and answer their questions because this is their way of caring. If you’re having a bad day, these friends are the ones who will sit and cry with you.
The Awesome Possum: Brings games/movies/distractions galore. Generally, have a lot of awesomeness. Sticks around for the long-haul
Pros: everything is awesome
Cons: very few and hard to find.
These are the gold standard of friends. How they are awesome depends on you and your definition of a good friend. The most important part of these friends though is that they stick with you. Janna has invited me to events for I think five years straight. Every month a FB event invite from her pops into my feed. Movies, concerts, beach party, dinner, game nights- so many different items that she includes an invite for me. Here’s the kicker- I’ve only gone to three events I think. There is the occasionally prior commitment, but a lot of times the only reason I don’t go is because I’m kinda exhausted from the week and need some rest. But SHE KEEPS INVITING ME. And I am so grateful. I know a lot of people get offended or don’t understand when I can’t make it to the events that they kindly extend an invitation to me. And I think they get tired of inviting me or feel like I’m a flake. I’m NOT. Please keep inviting me, I want to be included. And Janna- thanks so much.
I’ve heard from a few non-cancer friends that have been reading Elephants and Tea, so I thought I’d include some tips for them.
Cancer peeps – use this as a guide to share with your friends!
Don’t give up on us, even if we don’t come to events after multiple invites. (Read about Janna, above). We have limited energy and sometimes we just don’t have the physical resources to come. Please understand when we have to cancel plans. Trust me, we want to be with you. And please, please invite us again.
Help us out
Sometimes we have physical limitations. Chemo can make us bald, cold, hot, swollen, diarrhetic, bloated… be aware of that. Offer to bring (and hold!) our coat, hat, scarves and gloves. Be cognizant that we may get tired quickly or feel sick. We feel horrible about cutting a fun time short, but sometimes we are miserable. Be OK with us leaving early or slipping out for a needed bathroom run.
We don’t need to use our limited energy on driving. Offer to pick us up.
Fight for us
We are immunocompromised. See someone spewing germs into the air- ask them to use their sleeve when they sneeze or cough. A college-friend told how her she-wolf-pack armed themselves with Lysol wipes, and wouldn’t let her sit anywhere until they had sanitized the place and shewed away the coughing gremlins. Carry some hand sanitizer or wipes and helps us out.
I heard this catchy saying- Why shouldn’t you assume? Because that makes an a** of out u and me. I loved that!! Just ask us- ask us how we are doing. Ask us what we need from you. Ask us how much or how little we want to talk about cancer. Someone I was really close with freshman year of college (project groups, homework buddies, friends, teammate) didn’t even text me once after I relapsed and had to drop out of college. I was incredibly hurt. I finally got the courage to ask him why he didn’t even say hi to me when I wasn’t in school. His (lame) answer was that he didn’t think that I wanted to talk to someone in college, because I wasn’t in college. His assumption deeply hurt me- I wanted to talk with him, and live college vicariously through him, but he decided I didn’t want that without even asking me.
I know as a young adult, the idea of a good time may include going out. Movies, dinner, clubbing- none of these are exactly in-a-hospital-room activities. But adapt. Bring a movie and some snacks to the hospital. Bring a picnic cloth and some nice dishes for a fancy dinner. Bring some nice clothes to dress up, even if just to take a lap around the oncology floor. One of my favorite memories from in-patient is when my cousin and his wife came and visited. It was a long and lonely Saturday, as my family was all at home, and I had no one. They came over for the afternoon and brought a pack of cards. And we played card game after card game. I don’t know how many hours we played, but I absolutely loved it! I’d never played cards before, and frankly I don’t know that I was any good or much fun to play with. As a young professional couple, they most certainly had piles of invites to events and hangouts with friends on a gorgeous Saturday, but they instead choose to come and spend it in my four-walled prison and entertain me. Thanks guys.
Life is hard enough. Friends can make the journey so much better.