I have mentioned before that my mom is in hospice. She is in the end stages of gallbladder cancer, a terrible, fast moving cancer that is almost always terminal. The silver lining to my grey cloud is that we have had a year with her. This is longer than most people have when the find out their loved one has Stage IV gallbladder cancer. So, in the midst of my grief, I am thankful.
I wanted to write a quick note about loving your friend with terminal cancer. Yes, this is my mom, and she is my friend, but I am noticing some things that I feel may be helpful for those who have a close friend dying of cancer.
First, and I think most importantly, do not wait until they are in their final days to say good-bye. My mom went on hospice in September of last year. We have known that she would die for a few months now. Many of her friends have spoken with me and have told me that she has been in their prayers. I am so glad. What a wonderful testament of faith to know that she has so many praying for her. These prayers are a gift. But, two months ago also would have been the time to visit. My mom was still doing fairly well. She tired easily, but she could handle a 30 minute visit. I understand that life is busy. Time slips by us like a well-oiled machine. It happens to us all. I wanted to mention this because when your friend gets to her last days, she is not going to want visitors. This has nothing to do with her love for you. It has everything to do with separating from this life, and she can’t do it if she knows that her close friends are hurting because they can’t see her one last time. So visit your friend. Visit her before the end knowing that she may still have time, and tell yourself that you know you will always want more, but it will have to be enough. I am also writing this as a reminder to myself. This is a life lesson for me as well. I know in my gut that it isn’t a matter of if I have a friend that gets cancer, but when I have a friend with cancer. I want to remind myself not to wait.
Secondly, do not ask your friend to deal with your grief. Yes, you are grieving. Yes, your friend is going to want to talk about dying. Dying is mostly what mom and I are talking about right now. It is all my mom wants to talk about. She wants to know that I am going to be ok, and I tell her that I will be. Then I cry later. I am not saying that you can’t say that you are going to miss her, but it isn’t her job to help you process your grief. My mom is grieving herself. She is sad that she is going to miss things. Most people that mom has talked to are really good at this, but it just takes one phone call from the well-meaning person that is certain that she can still beat this or that just can’t believe she is dying to cause an emotional set back.
Along the same lines as the last point, I know that people are hopeful and want to help, but sometimes cancer is not curable. Please do not call with the latest and greatest holistic measure to cure your friend’s cancer. If she asks for it, by all means, share it. But if she doesn’t ask, it isn’t very helpful. My mom accepted the fact that this cancer would eventually bring her death. When someone would call with an internet miracle it made her feel as if she was giving up. That she wasn’t the fighter that everyone told her that she should be. It made her apologize to the person giving the advice. A cancer patient should never have to apologize for the decisions they are making. I think it was one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn. I needed to be supportive of whichever decision my mom was making at the time. She wanted to continue chemo? Great! Let’s do it! She wanted to stop chemo? I am here for you.
Finally, be gentle with the caregivers. My mom decided that she didn’t want to talk on the phone anymore. I am fielding phone calls from her best friends. I have to break their hearts and tell them that mom doesn’t want to talk. It is just as hard for me to say it as it is for them to hear it. The caregiver is only trying to make her loved one comfortable and carry out their loved one’s wishes. Be gentle.
Do you know what has been wonderful? People who call and say that they are bringing a meal and they will be there at 2. They say they don’t want to come in. They just want to drop it off. To top it off they know that we can’t eat gluten and my brother is a vegetarian and they still find something to make. These people are saints, and I am thankful for their generosity. Also the women who are taking my kids and keeping them busy. I am across the country from my kids right now. It gives me once less thing to worry about knowing that my kids are busy. It is a huge help, and gives me peace of mind.
The sad fact is that we will all most likely have to walk in the shoes of a caregiver, of a friend, or even of the cancer patient. I just wanted to highlight some things that I have noticed. It is healing for me to write it down. Some things we just can’t control. May God carry us all through those things.