How were people genuinely supportive to me as the carer and my loved one?
When my very close friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, (before my wife found out she had cancer), I constantly asked my friend how we could help her. She taught me everything I know.
Also, a sixteen year old teenager with cancer provided some useful suggestions before he died, too that I will never forget.
The first response to cancer news from your friend is to say "Oh Shit!' or "That's fucked!" or "What the fuck!" or "Damn" if you don't like swearing. Those responses made us smile. We were as stunned by the news as much as our friends were, when we told them.
Our wonderful friends let us cry and babble on about all of the medical terminology, potential treatment and our confusion. They listened and did not try to solve it.
Our friends helped us: They went to chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions with my wife when my wife wanted some-one with her. Our friends respected the fact that sometimes we needed to do things on our own. I had to let my wife do things on her own when she wanted no-one at treatments too.
We loved the friends that brought 'feel good' food and chocolate and champagne and listened. People paid for coffee and cake in cafes just to try and cheer us up. My wife loved getting flowers and massage vouchers. Our friends brought treats for our child.
Friends brought cooked meals for us to keep in the freezer. Not having to worry about cooking meals was appreciated. Although at one stage we had fifteen lasagnes delivered in one week! The sentiment was there, though.
Best Oscar Awards 🏆 for Compassionate Comments:
Don't be offended by "No, thanks," either. It's not that we didn't appreciate the offer. Sometimes you don't have the energy to do anything except crawl up on the couch in the foetal position in your pajamas.
Our feelings and emotions were so raw, vulnerable and exposed however when people genuinely asked us how they could help, it was appreciated.
In our case, we liked using 'real words' about cancer and dying, not euphemisms:
I emailed our friends to visit us and not cry in front of either of us or our young son, which used to happen regularly at our front door. My wife was consoling people about her impending death. We used to dread it when the door bell rang. Leave your mortality issues at the door. Literally.
We needed our friends' strength and support. Kindly said, I needed friends to cry on their own time. My wife started to say to some people, "I'm not dead yet, stop crying." 😲
We still enjoyed hearing everyone's good news, funny stories and their holiday plans. Anything else that distracts you from the cancer. There was a constant stream of food and treats being delivered so I did not have to cook.
Most of the focus and support is on the one with cancer, as it should be. I really appreciated it as a husband and father. What was special was when my close friends looked out for me too. They asked me: R U OK? Three powerful little words. Usually followed up with, "Is there anything we can do for you, Paul?".
My wife's beautiful Swiss cousin and her family, travelled to meet up with us to spend time with my wife in Paris (when we were celebrating Bad News) and Los Angeles on another occasion. She knew how time was so short and she wanted to make sure that she saw my wife as many times as she could. My brother who lived in London, did the same thing for his sister in law when we visited Europe.
My wife and son wanted to keep the cancer news 'low key', so that my son could attend secondary school and have time away from the cancer. The teachers and mentors respected that decision too. Our new American friends whose children went to the same school as my son, became part of our network of supportive friends. I knew that they could be discrete when I shared how bad the news was. They dropped food at our place so I did not have to cook. They often offered to collect our son after school, so that he could spend time with other teenagers, away from death and dying. We appreciated it.
My wife's Melbourne girlfriends visited regularly and other Sydney friends flew down to see her. Two other friends travelled from New Zealand and Singapore regularly just to cheer her up.
Their efforts made my wife so happy. It lifted her spirits ❤. As a carer, it is those moments which have the greatest effect on your loved one and made my job so much easier. I will never forget that.
These small gestures were so generous and made such an impact to us, when you are constantly 'drowning under the weight' of being a carer. It is difficult to juggle all of the balls in the air.
Our friends constantly checked in on us (from around the world) and did not give up on us, even as the news worsened. Our true friends were there when the aggressive cancer returned and when palliative care started and dementia set in.
When palliative care at home started, I organised a roster for people to come around to visit my wife. They brought my wife's favourite treats and more than plenty for everyone. Those wonderful friends gave me the gift of an hour or two away from cancer and death. I valued that time just to leave the house: My wife was cheered up, my son was at school and everyone was looked after.
Oh I had time to breathe. 🙂
I honestly did not think of using Carer apps on the phone or computer! I was not keen to post our personal details on Facebook. Here are a few to get you started.
Coordinate Help: Your personal CaringBridge website is designed to rally your family and friends together, to offer you support when and how you need it.
A transparent, free, charitable platform matching people in need with supporter’s physical or monetary help.
Ironically, even before this cancer roller coaster ride started for us, I didn't know what to say when my close friend was first diagnosed with cancer. I learnt the following:
When times were really tough, we dropped off our homemade cooking, with a main meal and dessert in an insulated bags outside their home, with flowers. We texted my friend and her family to say, "We're thinking of you. We have left food on the doorstep. Love to all of you."
It's not hard to be supportive, but some people struggle with what to say or do and others only think about it from their own perspective. Some people avoided seeing us or contacting us.
My wife used to ask me if an old friend didn't want to see her was because she had no hair? I said it was their immaturity and their mortality, it was not about her baldness.
I asked one person why she didn't visit my wife. She said, "I don't know what to say." Just talk to the person. Just listen to the person. Be there for them.
Some people told us about how their friends had died horrible deaths to cancer when I saw them. Why? How is that going to cheer us up? Pay a counsellor and work out why you need to tell people those sorts of stories. Not appropriate!
You are allowed to smile and laugh when you read these real life and true examples. We did 😂
My wife was handed an esoteric book about how she brought cancer on herself and how she can heal herself from within, if she just said sorry to a higher being. We laughed hard after she left.
Paul P Winbanks:
I taught in schools for 10 years then moved into technology training, helping adults. I am a Public Speaker, Civil Marriage Celebrant and passionate Change Management practitioner assisting people to navigate the dramatic and stressful changes in their work lives.