Tag Archives: cancer

Real Friends are the Wheat in Life

I was talking with a dear friend the other day. We were discussing stress and health and friendships. When an individual is experiencing persistent stress, or a traumatic event, you can tell a lot about their friends by how they act and react. Stress separates the wheat from the chaff (in friendships). Not all “friends” are created equal.

My friends know I’ve spent far too much of my life visiting loved ones in hospitals and at the doctors’.  My closest friends could probably recite each incident! I got an early start in life having to cope with these visits. Through all of them, I’ve had a core group of friends that held me up while I watched others suffer. My close friends are not the type that say, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and wander off. They’re not the “It’ll be OK” type. My closest friends are the ones that call and offer the sun, the moon, and the stars – or an evening out! That behavior, to me, defines friendship.

I realize everyone is different, and some people are uncomfortable with doctors and hospitals. I also realize some people just don’t know how to act and react when someone they’re friends with gets bad news or is ill. I, unfortunately, know how to react in these situations. It’s been drilled into me from encounters with loved ones with heart problems, strokes, and cancer. I’m not going to say it came easily, but it came.

A lot of times people are uncomfortable dealing with friends in these situations so they give a weak, “I’m so sorry. Let me know if there’s anything I can do” and then they totter off, grateful it isn’t happening to them. “What if I say the wrong thing?” they ask in an attempt to make themselves feel better for putting space between them and their friend’s struggles. Look, unless you’re suddenly going to lose complete control of your senses and begin babbling like an idiot, you’re not going to “say the wrong thing.” Tears and shows of emotion aren’t “the wrong thing.” It shows your friends/loved ones that you care and are concerned. That their pain weighs heavily on you. At the end of the day, remember, this isn’t about you. It’s about your friend and what you can do to offer support.

In writing this blog, I went on Cancer.Net and checked out their suggestions for supporting a friend who has cancer. It gave great advice that can be applied to any major health trauma. It was as follows:

  • Give your friend space, but offer to visit whenever he or she would like.

  • Make flexible plans that can be easily changed, in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel.

  • Make plans for the future—this gives your friend something to look forward to.

  • Be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed.

  • Allow for sadness—do not ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings.

  • Make time for a weekly check-in phone call. Let your friend know when you will be calling, and let your friend know that it is okay to not answer the phone.

  • When you make a commitment to help, follow through. For example, if you offer to bring a meal over on Sunday, try your best not to forget (post reminders for yourself in an appropriate spot).

  • Try not to let your friend’s condition get in the way of your friendship. Treat him or her the same way you always have.

  • Ask about interests, hobbies, and other topics not related to cancer—people going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about cancer.

  • If you aren’t sure how to help, ask.

What to say

Here are some simple guidelines to use when talking with your friend.

Avoid saying

I know just how you feel.

You need to talk.

I know just what you should do.

I feel helpless.

I don’t know how you manage.

I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Don’t worry.

How much time do the doctors give you?

Let me know what I can do (instead, offer specific ways in which you can help and things you can provide, should they need to call on you).

Do say

I’m sorry this has happened to you.

If you ever feel like talking, I am here to listen.

What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help?

I care about you.

Just remember, the key point isn’t to make yourself feel better, it’s to be there for your friend – to provide comfort and support. Real friends are there for each other, no matter what. Real friends are the ones that pick up your kids from school, bring you over dinner when you’re too ill to make it yourself, and take you out for a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on. Real friends are the wheat in life. The chaff you can do without.

The Blessings of Sister Eeyore O’Shea

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with one of my dearest friends. She’s in town with her husband – making the rounds and honoring us with her company. We met at a friend’s house and luxuriated poolside with good food, beer, and sunshine. There were no bugs.

When the visit was over and I drove home, I felt energized. It’s funny how being near certain people can do that. She’s one of those people. For as long as I can remember, she’s been there for me, a support. In fact, in my long, long, long, long, loooooooong life, there are probably just five friends on the “My Greatest Supporters List” and she’s one of them.

I feel blessed in my friendships – all of them. My friends have stood by me the last ten years of my life when things felt like they couldn’t possibly get worse, and then they did. My friendships extend from 5th grade all the way to new ones from Twitter. These are people who when I’m snuggled up in bed listening to Chris Moyles at 1 in the morning, will text me just to say “hi.” It’s a warm feeling to know that somewhere out in the world, someone thought about you long enough to drop you a line, isn’t it? God bless technology because I’m not lucky enough to have all my friends close by. They’re spread across the globe. But they’re just a phone call, text, or Direct Message away, and they’re there for me.

However, what makes this friendship so much more special is that shortly after the last time I saw her in 2008, she was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma. I won’t go into the details, we all know the horrors of cancer. While she battled so stoically, and with such grace and beauty, my friend remained concerned about my life. About how I was dealing with loss, and pain, and feelings of inadequacy, etc. While she fought cancer, she also fought my many neuroses. While all I wanted to talk about was how she was getting on and what her treatments were like, she wanted to know about my latest traumas and tribulations – who said what, and how did I react? She’s come through the other side with all the wisdom, elegance, and humor that I would expect of her.

When we met I was in my early ’20s, and she was my boss, and mentor. Even then she would pull me up by the shoulders, give me a shake, and tell me I could do better for myself. She’s a true friend who feels honest joy when I’m happy, and pure sadness when I’m at my lowest. She knows my deepest, darkest secrets and yet still thinks I’m special, and wants to stay friends. A hug from her can rejuvenate me as if I’ve just come from a spa.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I wondered if I’d ever given a fraction of the love and support to my friends that they have showered upon me. I feel entirely unworthy of their unflagging loyalty and devotion!

As you can tell, I don’t understand why my supporters tolerate me. I say this often, I’m going to become a nun and change my name appropriately enough to Sister Eeyore O’Shea. It’s suitably gloomy. I’ll be the morose nun in the corner who’s hidden desserts and books up her habit to keep herself occupied. Knowing my friends, they’re just so perfectly crazy in their love for me, they’d be right there saying things like, “Wow, you make a fabulous nun!” or “We want to join your convent.” I’m one lucky Eeyore.