How to Bee A Friend


No less than a dozen people have requested or referenced the post that I did last year on how to be a friend when a friend has cancer. Combining this with the fact that there are lots of new Silver Pen readers (Helloooo!) and the fact that I now have another friend who has a F-bomb cancer, I thought that the timing was right to revisit this topic.

When it comes to being a friend to someone with cancer, my suggestions revolve around the concept of Being.

Be present

Presence does not necessarily mean in the flesh. Presence means helping with child care. Dropping off food. Running errands. These are all forms of presence.

Being present means practicing random acts of kindness in the form of sending a note. Suggesting a film. Proposing a book, poem or quote. Forwarding a photo. More beautiful presence.

When I was sick, I vividly remember a friend who gave me a loaf of Banana Bread (that, to my horror, our dog Buzz proceeded to inhale). This same friend magically produced another loaf (which I proceeded to inhale). Loving presence.

It’s the little gestures (or the grand ones, like producing two loaves of Banana Bread in a 24-hour period of time) that enabled me feel a friend’s presence. And these phenomenal forms of presence meant the world to me.

Be inquisitive

Ask your friend what would be helpful during the journey. Don’t assume. It’s ok if there is no answer. Or if the answer changes. Just asking the question, being inquisitive, is incredibly sensitive, thoughtful and generous.

Be patient

The last place I wanted to be was off the radar. I love living in the world. I missed my friends and being a part of my extraordinary community, locally and globally.

When I was Puke Face after the second round of chemo and had to cancel plans (again!) a patient friend eloquently said, “We will all be here when you feel up for whatever you fancy.” I can’t tell you how much that sentiment meant to me. To know that those people near and dear would still be there. On the other side.

Be calm

No drama. Really. Throughout this process, the HOTY and I were cool, calm and collected (not without focused effort) because we intentionally surrounded ourselves with friends who functioned the same way.

It wasn’t to say to say that there weren’t a few requisite ‘roid rage explosions (from the steroids) or chemo-sobby episodes; however, calmness went a long, long way in maintaining perspective and a Silver Lining attitude!

Be honest and communicative

I encourage you to ask your friend how they prefer to communicate during the period of FBC (or just FC). For example, talking on the phone made me nauseous, dizzy and cranky.  I told people that I preferred to communicate by email or text. I recognize that in the real world, it’s not the most personal way to communicate, but when you’re Puke Face, you do the best you can!

Honest language has always been a moral imperative in our life. Cancer is a word that scares people. Most often this comes from personal experiences. It’s best to avoid putting your experiences (or those about your brother’s wife’s friend) on the person with cancer. My suggestion would be to say, “I have an experience with cancer. Would you like to hear about it? If not, no worries.”

For me, even though sharing experiences is well-intentioned, it’s not how I roll. Personally, I’d preferred to use my time with friends to hear about a fabulous book or a trip.

In your communication, I suggest refraining from euphemisms. Use the proper terminology: breast cancer. I happen to have thrown an F-Bomb in for good measure. One person, knowing that I have breast cancer, said to me that he heard that I have a “problem”. Uh Huh. I couldn’t make that up. If our daughter, a/k/a Finally Five can talk about breast cancer, using anatomically correct language, then grown-ups can do it!

Another communication suggestion (or rather, imperative) is don’t ever, under any circumstances, use the term “only” in the same sentence with “chemo”, e.g., “You only have three more treatments left!” When people say this, I know (without a doubt!) that it comes from a good and encouraging place which is why I am able to refrain from convulsing. However, this was a biggie.

Be normal

Kvetch about the weather. Talk about the best (and worst!) dressed at the Oscars. Share the extraordinary things in your life. Witnessing a normal day was extraordinary to me.

Be persistent

Many people told me (and the HOTY) that they “didn’t want to bother me”. I appreciated the presumed sensitivity; however, there was nothing better to me that receiving a voicemail or email that says, “I’m thinking about you. You don’t need to respond. Just know.” I received these gestures every single day. They are fueling. And loving. And so deeply appreciated!

One thing NOT to Be…

Don’t take things personally.

My going underground had absolutely nothing to do with anyone but me and my reaction to the chemo coursing through my veins.

If, for example, if I made a plan at 9:00 am to get together at 11:00 am and at 10:00 am, I cancelled, it wasn’t about the person whom I was meeting. It was extraordinarily difficult to predict at any given time how I was going to feel. Within a 10 minute period, I could feel 180 degrees opposite. Canceling had only to do with self preservation.

Social graces are on hiatus during FBC. The things we take for granted in our polite society need to be forgiven because they are all but forgotten (or remembered at a socially inappropriate time).

Which reminds me: the memory loss affiliated with “Chemo Brain” was and I think still continues to be very (VERY!) real. I asked the poor HOTY (a/k/a Husband of the Year) the same question over and over and over and over again. I even knew that I asked the same question repeatedly, but could not come up with the answer. Fortunately, he learned learned long ago NOT to take things personally (Silver Lining).

Do you all have any thoughts or recommendations on “Beeing” with a friend who has cancer?  I’d love to hear from you!

In the meantime…

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  1. Diane says

    As a friend of a friend who has a friend recently diagnosed (got it?), I am sharing the link to this entry. This particular lesson is so valuable. Thanks for your wisdom.

  2. E.B. says

    This was spot-on. Thank you. Much, much, much appreciated. A sense of normalcy (in an upside down world) is something very much needed when going through this type of situation, it provides a semblance of balance. My Mom and I would have a full-on English tea, porcelain teapot, tea cups and all, when she was in the hospital, those are some of my best memories.

    • says

      Thanks so very much, E.B. I really appreciate it. I absolutely LOVE the fact that your mom had a full English tea in the hospital. That is fabulous!