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Providing support to anyone affected by blood cancer
By Chris Lewis
When I was asked to write this piece I took a sharp intake of breath as this was one of the most difficult areas I have experienced, both from dealing with my own cancer and also talking with my friends about theirs.
The dynamics of relationships are something we tend to take for granted while enjoying the positive things of life together. But when something life-changing occurs, even the strongest of relationships can be put to the test.
The official statistics tell us that one in three people are affected by cancer but apparently that is due to rise to one in two by 2020. However, in my opinion we are all affected by cancer, as everyone will know someone whose life has been affected by this disease. Learning to talk about cancer is something we are all going to have to get used to.
A cancer diagnosis is life-changing; not just for the patient but also for those people connected to them. Not only is it difficult for them to come to terms with what is happening, but also how to tell those close to them.
But then there is the other side of that situation, how do you deal with the news that your good friend has cancer?
There are no rulebooks to refer to, and often that information can be given in the most unlikely settings with no warning at all. How do you react? What do you say?
We are all very different and deal with things uniquely. Many will want to talk openly, but others not so, and I have met people who didn’t tell their partners what they were going through.
When I was diagnosed it took me several days to work out how I was going to give the news and in what order to people in my life. It was important for me to tell people personally, and explain what was going to happen to me. I am a communicator by trade so it was easier for me.
But what I never understood at the time, and experience has shown me, is that many people couldn’t deal with what I was telling them. Initially conversations were slightly awkward, and I felt that people were feeling sorry for me.
What I really needed was things to be normal, but that became a thing of the past. It took a long time for many people to understand what was happening. I learned quickly that it was a difficult thing for my friends to deal with, and it has taken a long time for things to settle down. Some friends became strangers because in many cases they just didn’t know what to say.
My own journey has become incredibly complex over the seven years, but my experiences have made me into a ‘go-to guy’ for cancer for my friends. Yet I still find it incredibly difficult talking to them about their situation. So if that is the case, it is not surprising that people find communicating difficult.
In my experience, most people don’t want to be ‘smothered’ by caring people, but neither ignored. If in doubt just pick up the phone and say “hi.” Although it will be difficult, people will not want their relationships to change, and will not be looking for sympathy. Where possible they will want things to continue as they were.
None of us want to be defined by our disease which can happen if we are not careful. I know from my own experience that wherever I meet people I know, all they ask me about is my cancer. Of course it is done in a caring way, but I do have a life aside of my illness, but it seems that cancer now dominates my social life too.
If I could offer any advice at all it would be to ask “how can I help?” When you are diagnosed there may be many things that you will need help with. Most of us find it difficult to ask so it is always refreshing when someone offers.
Our friends are people we choose to share our lives with and sharing a cancer experience is now become a reality for most of us. But it is important that we are able to do that, in a way that fits for all. It may take time to understand what is required, but to be a good friend it is important you don’t give up. Cancer can make you feel very isolated at times, and it is then that you will be needed most.
Read more of Chris's blogs here