Monday, 21 October 2013

How to treat a friend diagnosed with breast cancer - my view

Last week at a market one of my customers said 'we haven't seen you at Totnes (market) for a while'

'eeerrrrmmmm no........'

'Ah there's a story but I think this is the second time this week I've put my foot in it' He said

'No, no, no!' I said

I then told him about the bastard cancer.

He and his wife then bought some cheese and as I gave him his change he again said 'the second time this week I've put my foot in it'

Again I said 'No,no,no ....... not at all'

He then said 'I said to someone one this week I haven't seen your wife for a while and he said she died.....'

Oh bugger!!

It got me thinking.....

Back in May when OH and I had to go and see his shoulder Consultant (the one with the personality of a house brick!)  I picked up a magazine in the waiting room and there was an article ..........

Ten things not to say to a breast cancer patient

Now I found it very interesting and could relate to some of the things said as they too had been said to me but I also thought it was a bit negative and that perhaps it would have been better to have said what to say to your friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ok you ask ..... what should I say?

Well before the bastard cancer came along I probably wouldn't have known what the right thing was to say to someone else either so although you might feel you've said or done the wrong thing so probably have I and I'm not being judgemental or critical. Everyone does cancer differently.

You may well be defensive and say I've said some of those things but I meant well. Sometimes meaning well isn't always enough.

I am actually going to list some of the negatives because they were jaw dropping and well .......jaw dropping

The worst was the day I went for my biopsy, not knowing what the lump was and being told by my mother about a woman she knew who at 73 went for a mammogram at her request, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have 7 weeks radio therapy .......'and you have to find a hospital that does it and its everyday. I think you have weekends off though'

Yes thanks........ For five days waiting for my results all I worried about was 7 weeks radio therapy and when I got the bad news the first question I asked the Breast cancer nurse was would I have to have 7 weeks radio therapy. Bless her .... she couldn't believe what I'd said!

Over the months others have cheerfully told me about Mrs. So and So who was burnt by the radio therapy and their friends sister whose reconstruction went wrong and then died, yes thanks I'm not having reconstruction ....  oh and someones mother in laws friend who had all the treatment and then it came back. Yes thanks! Then there's R who had an awful time with chemo and had to crawl up the stairs  ..... yes thanks ... I'm not having chemo

You'll be fine I had a scare too it was just a cyst ......... (errr no .... its been diagnosed as breast cancer)

I know how you're feeling ....... ( no you bloody don't ....... you haven't been diagnosed with breast cancer )

I won't phone but let me know if you want anything doing .......(no, don't put the ball in my court )

I didn't phone because I didn't know what to say .....( at least you're honest but just be yourself ....... talk about what we'd normally talk about)

Hat or wig? (completely gobsmacked at this one!)

You're looking well ....... ( yes I was only diagnosed two weeks ago so what do you expect?)

'How are you?'

 'Very tired'

'Well done'

...... whaaaaat??? if you're going to ask  how I am then at least listen to my answer

Then there was the person who avoided me .......  I know that you know because I heard you'd given someone the third degree about them knowing before you .......thanks for getting in touch and your support NOT !

Don't turn it back on you or when you had cancer and try and hijack the other persons experience .......  we are all different and our treatment is tailor made for us individually. Empathy not negativity is needed. You may be bitter after your treatment but please don't make us feel we should be the same.

I have certainly been surprised and disappointed at how certain friends have reacted to my breast cancer diagnosis ...... the ones I thought would be brilliant have distanced themselves and others who I wasn't particularly close to have been amazing ...... as the saying goes 'friends for a reason and friends for a season' ...... so true. I have to wonder why ... is it fear that they don't know how to interact or they're upset or they may not be able to handle what may happen in the future.

Dunno........  but at the end of it all I'm still me even with a dented boob and scar under my arm.

From the start I had friends who phoned or e-mailed and said is it ok if I come round and see you at such and such time and what do you want me to do .......... as I was so pleased to have company and see them we ate drank and talked rather than them doing the housework, gardening, ironing which I had lined up. It was just good to know that the offer was there if I needed it.

Being taken out for girlie lunches was also great for making me feel normal even if I didn't feel one hundred per cent!

Its six months since my operation and I still have the get well cards up ....... you may find that strange but over the months I've taken great comfort in looking at them and reading the lovely messages over again, knowing so many people care. Looking at a hand written message is comforting.
 I've also had cards to add to the collection as friends have sent 'thinking of you' type messages during various stages of my treatment.

Since day one I've had certain friends who have texted, tweeted or e-mailed me daily then weekly then less so (as I've recuperated) to see how I'm doing ...... all unconditional and no pressure for me to reply. I mustn't forget facebook as although not a fan before the bastard cancer, my friends on there have been fab with their support and I've also been reunited with old friends who have been just as  supportive with their comments and personal messages. Makes you wonder why we lost touch....... shit happens!

'How lovely to see you' is one of the greatest things people can say to you when you're feeling shit and trying to hold it together ...... my farmers and fellow traders ..... you rock!

Hugs .... oh hugs are just the best thing ......everything is said in a hug ...... no words needed ....... market traders are fab at hugs and they made me feel so good, nothing better than when I felt shit! I can't thank the  twitter friends who turned up at markets just to give me a hug and say hello .... especially thanks to JGA and ET

Then there were the food parcels...... A and F and Sand A sent their amazing food back (unconditionally)with OH after a Friday market which meant there was at least one if not two meals I didn't have to think about ........ this was so appreciated.

If you don't know someone well asking 'Has it been a good day/week or a bad day/week for you' ...... is a good way of finding out how someone is feeling without being too intrusive

Small things are appreciated like when I blogged about my problems of having to hang free due to the side effects of radio therapy, a friend who was away told me where to find a top of hers in her wardrobe  that would disguise this ...... don't worry no breaking in was required I had a key and although I didn't go riffling through her stuff I appreciated the offer!                     

'You're looking well' ..... I know this was in the negative comments but actually eight weeks after my radio therapy everyone started to say it .......and it was such a boost because I felt better in myself too and to know that others noticed was brilliant.

As I've said this is my view and my experience of how I've found peoples reactions to my breast cancer diagnosis and how I've I appreciated friends love and support ...... we're all different and we all deal with things differently but maybe this will help you if in the future you have a friend diagnosed with breast cancer.

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