I do not envy cancer patient supporters. Not even slightly. As hard as it is was to go through cancer and deal with all the glorious tribulations it brought, I still can’t even fathom how hard it is for loved ones, friends, colleagues to watch helplessly from the sidelines.
By: Robin Harry
I do not envy cancer patient supporters. Not even slightly. As hard as it was to go through cancer and deal with all the glorious tribulations it brought, I still can’t even fathom how hard it is for loved ones, friends, colleagues to watch helplessly from the sidelines. It’s hard to know what to say, what to do, how to help us. I’ll let you in on a secret though; there is a trick that really facilitates supporting patients like me as we go through these tough times. It’s called listening.
During my time with cancer, I was extremely well supported; without a doubt, my family, friends and colleagues did everything they could to make life easier for me. I will say, though, that there were a few times where people’s lack of listening skills frustrated me to no end. Those were the times when people would do or say what they thought was necessary (which is noble in its own right), but was completely opposite of what I needed. Those times would have been much easier on both parties if they had just listened up a bit.
Sometimes listening to a cancer patient means sitting silently while we talk about the challenges we’re facing. We just need to get it out, to vent. We don’t always need reassurances; we don’t need to be made to feel better or uplifted, or platitudes and potentially false promises hidden in attempts at encouragement. We don’t need you to relate to us, either. Unless you’ve had cancer, you likely can’t relate, and we know that. What you CAN do is care. That’s all we need sometimes – just to know someone cares about what we’re going through.
That being said, we don’t always need to talk. Sometimes what we need is for people to pay heed to what’s going on and take it into consideration. Listen to what’s there and to what’s NOT there. At times, listening to a cancer patient means hearing silence and realizing that we just need to be left alone for a little while. Sometimes it means picking up on whatever is making life difficult for us at a particular time and helping us out with that complaint. Bored? Maybe pick up a movie. Tired? Give us some nap time. No energy to cook? Find out what we can eat and ask if we want take-out. Hot flashes? Be ready with an ice pack!
I’m making it sound easy; it’s not. I’m sure there are times when supporters feel like they have to be mind-readers to figure out what’s going on with us, and we patients aren’t always the best at verbalizing what we need. However, if you truly want to support us, you don’t have to read our minds, but you do have to pay attention. I think listening and observation are two of the best tools that will make a cancer patient feel supported.