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Supporting friends with Cancer.
Old 04-28-2008, 03:16 AM   #1
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Supporting friends with Cancer.

I'd like a do over today.

This morning email brought news that my older cousin (I think she is her early 70s) has a large tumor in her breast. The prognosis isn't good. I haven't seen that side of the family in more than a decade so the news is sad but doesn't really hit home.

On the other hand this afternoon brought horrible news, my best friends wife Breast cancer has reappeared and spread to her liver and pancreas. The doc has classified it as Stage IV (the worse) looking at the internet 5 year survival rates are only 15-25%. This caps a roller coaster emotional month, with Doctors saying I think your cancer maybe back,followed by perhaps it is a new bone cancer, another doc saying no cancer it is something else followed, by this horrendous diagnoses.


She is morbidly obese in poor health, and her mental attitude has been very depressed after losing both parents (one to cancer) and suffering through her own loss of her breasts in the last 5 years. It is really hard to be optimistic. She has many terrific qualities, but would drive many men crazy. I am going to get a Hawaii gift basket for her, and hope that she is well enough to travel to Hawaii between chemo sessions. She loves it her.

However, I am more worried about my my buddy he loves her unconditionally and is pretty dependent on her. He is one of the easiest going guys I know, but I think this may just break his spirits.

Anybody who's been through this before want to give me some thoughts on what I can do to help. Stuff friends did that you really appreciate? things that you know they meant well but were painful?

I live in Hawaii he lives in North California so probably can't go visit more than a couple of times a year.
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Old 04-28-2008, 08:11 AM   #2
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clif. all I can say is to stay in touch.. with phone calls, letters/e-mails, little "thinking of you" gifts [the Hawaii basket is sweet].

One of my best girlfriends in the States has been battling most of her life with acoustic neuromas (genetic tumors on the auditory nerve) that have made her recently 100% deaf. I was her roommate in the early 1980s and took care of her after her first brain operation, and now she has just had her third (or fourth? --they have to keep paring back the tumors to keep her from dementia, blindness, and death). I don't visit the US that much but was able to stop by just for an afternoon during her recovery and her husband told me "you don't know how much this has done for her mood!" even though I was only able to communicate in a kind of bastardized and hastily-crammed ASL for the space of a few hours.

No one can really appreciate what they are going through, but whatever you can do that brings some "normalcy" will help. Oftentimes people who are terribly ill get virtually abandoned by friends and colleagues who just "don't know what to say" and so withdraw out of discomfort or even well-meaning (that the ill person may not want to be 'disturbed'). I think risking 'painful' contact is better than the alternative.

Do what you can to offer them the HI trip, if she can make it (maybe contributing the amount you'd have spent to go there instead?).. When an aunt of mine was in the final phases of a similarly invasive cancer, her heretofore stoic/uncommunicative side of the family did get together in an unusual way for a last vacation at a rented NH lake house (they had all grown up in that area but were now all over the country). She got to meet my DH and although everyone knew it was "the last time" for a similar gathering (actually it was also the first!), my aunt did seem to enjoy it and everyone was richer for having spent some time together despite the circumstances. Sort of "Big Chill" meets "Terms of Endearment".

Gotta go e-mail my friend now since I haven't in a few weeks!!

Best wishes to you & your friends, clif.
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Old 04-28-2008, 09:35 AM   #3
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Cliff

We are currently going thru this with a close friend, however we are located in the same city which makes it much easier.

I believe the most important thing is to stay in contact and provide a listening post to your friend. It is amazing how many people disappear into the woodwork when serious illness eventuates, mainly due an inability to know what to say or not wanting to see the dying person, almost as if they fear that the disease is going to be contagious. We make sure we contact our friend every couple of days, offer help, meet for coffee, try and maintain normalcy for them at a time when their world has been turned upside down. We also talk about the elephant in the room as we find our friend needs to verbalise what is going on with this disease. We help him believe he is going to beat the odds and survive his cancer.

Good luck in the coming months and let us know how it goes.
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Old 04-28-2008, 10:03 AM   #4
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Last year within a period of three months, I had four friends diagnosed with cancer. I had to make notes on each one and their procedures so that I could keep up.

The best thing I can tell you is, listen more, talk less.
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Old 04-28-2008, 10:16 AM   #5
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We have a good friend who is battling throat cancer and I think he really appreciates us just being there . I get together with his SO often so she can vent and she tells me how helpful that is.
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Old 04-28-2008, 11:18 AM   #6
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Once someone has reached the "acceptance" stage of their cancer, they really don't want to spend most of their time on life views, philosophy of death, condolences, etc. They'd rather talk about the ball game, the da%^ stock market, how stupid the president is, and laugh at some jokes or whatever constituted the more enjoyable parts of their interactions before the cancer diagnosis.

The heavy stuff usually gets reserved for close loved ones and professionals, though sometimes it comes up naturally or unexpectedly with friends or out of nowhere.

My suggestion for giving support is to be there, act like you had run into someone at the coffee shop and were just chatting. Let your friend take the discussion wherever they want, but be quick to just chat about normal stuff.

Plain old listening is always great, but my experience is that beyond a certain point it becomes reminiscent of a therapy session (rather than a visit with a friend) if taken too far. Think cocktail party where someone just stares and nods at you without taking any active participation in the discussion. Yuck - leave it to the counsellors.

Also, you can't imagine the difference between visiting once (an appreciated and helpful "duty") and coming back a second, third, fifth, or 50th time. Those follow-up visits graduate you from someone who is considerate to someone who really cares.

Just some random thoughts.
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As if you didn't know..If the above message contains medical content, it's NOT intended as advice, and may not be accurate, applicable or sufficient. Don't rely on it for any purpose. Consult your own doctor for all medical advice.
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Old 04-28-2008, 02:00 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DangerMouse View Post
Cliff

We are currently going thru this with a close friend, however we are located in the same city which makes it much easier.

I believe the most important thing is to stay in contact and provide a listening post to your friend. It is amazing how many people disappear into the woodwork when serious illness eventuates, mainly due an inability to know what to say or not wanting to see the dying person, almost as if they fear that the disease is going to be contagious. We make sure we contact our friend every couple of days, offer help, meet for coffee, try and maintain normalcy for them at a time when their world has been turned upside down. We also talk about the elephant in the room as we find our friend needs to verbalise what is going on with this disease. We help him believe he is going to beat the odds and survive his cancer.

Good luck in the coming months and let us know how it goes.
This is a very high class way to help out in a tough situation. I admire your actions.

Ha
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Old 04-28-2008, 02:30 PM   #8
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Rich is so right. At a point it is so nice to have someone to talk about ordinary stuff. I would make a point to call or email frequently.

When a friend of mine was going through a bad time with chemo, we sent her family premade dinners for a while. They really appreciated it.
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Old 04-28-2008, 02:35 PM   #9
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My mother in law was going through chemo. I would make her easy to fix dinners. My wife and I would go help clean or fix up the yard. I cant imagine how much chemo takes it out of you. But things like that will be really appreciated.

It will be hard to do what we did regarding your distance. But my mother in law would comment about how nice it was that we were "there for her". So calling and writing. Things of that nature Im sure would be a real big help.
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Old 04-28-2008, 03:30 PM   #10
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Quote:
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Rich is so right. At a point it is so nice to have someone to talk about ordinary stuff. I would make a point to call or email frequently.

When a friend of mine was going through a bad time with chemo, we sent her family premade dinners for a while. They really appreciated it.
I think that was my big question. The last month our conversation have been 90% about the elephant in the room. I'll let him steer the conversation but it sounds like talking about ordinary things is really important.

Thanks for all of the comments.
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Old 04-28-2008, 05:24 PM   #11
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So sorry to hear about your friend's wife. What a hard place to be in.

I think all of the above posts are good ones, with good suggestions. Being of a practical nature, I tend towards practical help. Maybe you could spring for a maid service to help your friend keep the house clean and organized through this time. It would probably be a couple of hundred bucks a month but not having to worry about vacuuming, cleaning, etc. might make their lives a lot easier. There are "green" companies out there that use nontoxic products if that's a concern of your friends.

When one of my dear friends was suffering from debilitating (and untreatable) spinal pain, I tried to send her a little gift, something funny, every couple of weeks. She said it really lifted her spirits.

Good luck, and hang in there.
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Old 04-28-2008, 05:37 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich_in_Tampa View Post
Once someone has reached the "acceptance" stage of their cancer, they really don't want to spend most of their time on life views, philosophy of death, condolences, etc. They'd rather talk about the ball game, the da%^ stock market, how stupid the president is, and laugh at some jokes or whatever constituted the more enjoyable parts of their interactions before the cancer diagnosis.
Spot on.

I'm visiting my brother (lung cancer) as I type this, sitting across from him in his den. Since his diagnosis a year ago, he's done the chemo and radiation torture treatments and went into hospice care in November. He has no interest in discussing death and dying, at least not with me. We talk about the same things we've always talked about.
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Old 04-28-2008, 05:49 PM   #13
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I think that was my big question. The last month our conversation have been 90% about the elephant in the room. I'll let him steer the conversation but it sounds like talking about ordinary things is really important.
Thanks for all of the comments.
It helps to visit a few times a year for a few days at a time. When you first settle in, you can say "I'm not very good at this but I want to help, so please tell me what you want me to do." The sooner & more often you visit, the less painful it gets to make the final visit.

The cancer patient may shrug their shoulders but the caregiver will immediately say "I'm going to go take a nap, and could you help me with dinner, and we need to make a grocery run, and later..."

Be ready to spend a lot of time talking about everything nothing. I also learned that I was the one who could drive the patient to the places they didn't want to discuss with their family or significant other-- a sinful restaurant, a safe-deposit box, a lawyer, a different doctor, and to the library to research their cancer, treatment, & symptoms. After a couple hours at the latter my uncle mustered up the courage to admit to me "Well, it looks like I'm well & truly f^&*ed this time." For some reason we decided that was funny, had a good laugh (I guess you had to be there), and the subject never came up again. I can't begin to count the number of hours I spent in a coffee shop with him so that he could "hold court" with the locals. His wife didn't like to let him drive, she was uncomfortable leaving him there on his own, he was reluctant to make demands of her or his buddies, and so on. I was the perfect gofer solution.

When they tire for a nap you may think you're going to be on your own for a while, but that's when other family & friends want to take their turns to talk through it too. I found it a lot easier to stay in a hotel so that everyone had a reason to disengage.

I strongly recommend the book "Chasing Daylight". (I think we read the library's copy.) Gene O'Kelly was a tad hypercompetitive (to put it mildly) but he had huge insights on saying goodbye.
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