If you have a friend who is diagnosed with cancer, the best thing to do in terms of what to say (or not say) is take your lead from them. Do use the word cancer. Do not assure them you know they will make it. And certainly do not say it is not fair.
I would also try to resist the temptation to say ‘If there’s anything I can do…’ as that puts the onus onto them to come up with a solution to a problem they did not ask for and when they will be at their most stressed and least creative.
Make suggestions which they can say yes or no to, however daft they sound. Put them in control.
On Thursday I took delivery of my new book, my journal-memoir of my own experience of cancer nearly seven years ago. Celebrating it on the weekend with the gang of friends who showed up with help when we needed it, I thanked them for that: showing up. As Woody Allen says, it is 80% of success.
The odd thing is nearly all of them said they couldn’t think of a single thing they did which was helpful. One friend from church organised a meals rota from friends in the neighbourhood. These would arrive in a cool box by our front door (in throwaway containers so the kitchen did not clog up with dishes) on the day of each chemotherapy treatment and for the two days following it, on every single cycle, from February to June. My children developed a taste for puddings. Another took them to hang out at their house, just to be with friends. Another drove us into hospital each day of my treatment so that we would not have to pay the car park fees.
Another wrote cards on the days of treatments, nothing profound, just little notes really. Being a words person, this was more than enough.
You get the idea.
So: don’t leave it to your friend to decide how to take you up on your kind offer because if they are British they will go blank and not want to put you out.
Looking back, I now see we were not left alone. That is the greatest gift we received. It consisted of time, words, music, silence, food and brownies on the doorstep. The simple things.
I’m still grateful for them.
I would also try not to refer to cancer as a battle, but that is another blog post.
You can buy Love for Now here
You can read about my diagnosis for cancer here
You can read about my remission from cancer here