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I Had Cancer & This is What I Needed

Posted by Arona Martin on
I Had Cancer & This is What I Needed

Guest post by Dana Stewart of Dragonfly Angel Society

I’ve had the unfortunate joy of being a cancer patient moved to cancer survivor and then had to watch as one of my closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer within two years of me finishing treatment.  Up until my diagnosis of breast cancer when I was 32 years old, I had not had much experience with cancer. My grandma died of lung cancer when I was 6 years old but that was about it. I also lived in a nice naïve world in which I was 100% sure I would never get cancer and never see anyone I love fight the battle either.  It was a nice little place, this world I lived with my eyes blanketed over by pure ignorance.

It’s been about 9 years since my diagnosis and a substantial amount has changed. I am no longer naïve on cancer. I’ve seen it first-hand now. It’s a scary, painful, fearful place that I wish no one would have to experience.  What made the journey easier for me was all the support I received from friends and family. That was a game changer because although I knew no one my age that had experienced cancer, I felt so supported and not alone.  Fast forward two years later and I found myself in the opposite position. A childhood friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 30 and once again I found myself dealing with young adult breast cancer, but this time, from the other side.

Being a caregiver/friend of someone going through cancer puts a completely different perspective on cancer, at least it did for me.  I knew what I needed as a cancer survivor, but now I was seeing the cancer survivor through the eyes of the caregiver. So, what to do?  In all transparency, here, I wanted to run. I didn’t want to see someone I love face what I had just finished. It was terrifying to have to see someone else face cancer and I had no clue what to do.  Instead, I took a step back and thought of all the things people did to support me as well as the things I wish I would have known or had people done when I was fighting cancer. Here are a few tips I’ve learned if you find yourself in the position of supporting a friend or family member facing cancer:

  1. Do not say “it’s all going to be okay.”  Unless you are a fortune teller, you don’t know this to be the truth, so stay away from it.  It’s the first thing you will think of – I thought it too, but it’s not helpful, I am sorry to say.  
  2. Be yourself.  The reason you are in this person’s life is because they love you for you.  Don’t try to suddenly be the person you think they need because they are fighting cancer.  Stay true to yourself. Trust me, this makes the fight easier for them…and for you.
  3. Treat them to something they love.  I am not saying go out and buy them the world, but if they like to read, get the newest bestseller, if they like chocolate, buy them a sweet treat, etc.  If they enjoy writing or journaling, buy them something beautiful to write in like the Love Heals journal. You get the idea.

  1. Laugh with them.  I latched onto humor like it was a lifesaver.  I made fun of everything from my bald head, to my forgetful mind (thank you chemo.)  Follow the person’s lead here, but if they open up the door to laughter and humor, play along.  It will help them and you too.
  2. Don’t run.  It seems like a safe place to just run from them because you don’t know what to say or do.  I don’t suggest this. It tells them you don’t care. Just because you don’t feel like you have the absolute perfect words to share about cancer, so what?  Be a part of their life like the friend or family member you have always been to them. Trust me, they will want things as normal as possible.
  3. Stay away from “motivational” cancer stories and verbiage.  This is hard to explain, but as I was going through treatment, I didn’t want to hear about “new normal” and I am just going to “have to deal with the changes in my life.”  I hated all that. I hated hearing “you can’t get your old life back.” I am super well aware. However, at the time, it felt good just to get those words out. Don’t try to sugar coat the situation.
  4. Let the person grieve. This ties into point 6.  Don’t be “Suzy Sunshine” every time you hear them talk about being scared, sad, fearful, etc.  Let them speak it!! They are going through potentially one of the worst moments in their life and they are scared out of their minds.  Telling them not to think the horrible thoughts that they are fearful of dying is not helpful. You may not want to hear it and they surely don’t want to say it, but it’s there and it’s in their mind.  Let them speak it.
  5. Ask questions.  Feel out what the person is willing or not willing to share.  I appreciated it when people wanted to know what was happening, how I felt, how the treatment was going, etc.  I had no problem chatting about it. See where this goes. Some people will be open to share and some won’t. Both are just fine.
  6. Do not share stories of unhappy endings.  I feel this is obvious, but you would be surprised.  I always got one or two of the “my friend had cancer too, but….she died.”  Not helpful. Nothing else necessary to say here.
  7. Talk about the happenings in your life too.  I literally hated when people refused to tell me about their day to day lives.  They would say “oh you have so much worse things happening than hearing about how my car broke down.”  No no!! I LOVED to hear about everyone’s daily lives. It made me feel normal and sane. Trust me on this one.

You know your friend or family member best.  Feel out the situation. If you are open to observe the situation and read what the person you are supporting needs, you will do just fine.  Most important, don’t change who you are for them as they go through cancer. They need you to be you! That’s the absolute most important thing you can do as a caregiver in the cancer realm.

Guest post by Dana Stewart of Dragonfly Angel Society



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1 comment

  • Marcella on

    Thank you! I am 4 months in from my breast cancer diagnosis. I am much older than you, but have to say, I too had similar feelings. I gave watched several family members battle various forms of cancer. Several did not win. My diagnosis was a shock, but with a wonderful husband , family and friends I am more than living through this. Faith and grace with family and friends is my way of getting through the treatments, endless appointments and the unknown future. The little things in life, make a big difference in life today.

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