The sad reality is that virtually all of us know someone who has cancer, often several people. Whatever stage they are coping with – diagnosis, treatment, recurrence, even long-term follow-up and all clear – friends and family want to offer support and show they care. But knowing what to say or do can feel like such a minefield that people avoid the subject and perhaps the person or, conversely, become ‘positivity bullies’.
Dr. Mike Osborn, consultant Macmillan clinical psychologist at Royal United Hospitals Bath, says: ‘Feeling uncomfortable comes with the territory. It doesn’t mean you are doing or saying the wrong thing. The main message is: don’t abandon the person with cancer. It may not be easy all the time, but show up and, as long as your heart is in the right place and you don’t try to tell people how to feel or live their lives, you will do fine.’
Here are some suggestions from Dr. Osborn:
If you don’t know how to start the conversation, admit it. Say ‘I don’t want to upset you, but I do want to know how you are’; ‘I don’t know what to say, but I care how you are feeling’, or ‘I don’t want to push you, but how are you, really?’
• Don’t feel obliged to change someone’s mood and never offer unsolicited advice: you don’t have to fix them, just support them. Emotions may emerge and you can support the person by simply being there. There are no ‘right’ words – a warm tone and loving touch are powerful in themselves.
• If the person does not want to talk about their illness, respect that – but make sure to say you are available if they change their mind. Don’t badger, but don’t go away. See if they would like to play Scrabble or cards, go for a walk, watch a DVD or talk about something completely different.
• Remember the person with cancer may be tired and feel flat emotionally, so will not want to talk much or for long. One patient appreciated a friend who popped in for a ten-minute chat every week, bringing a bunch of flowers.
• Touch can be therapeutic. Going through cancer treatment makes skin dry, so taking cream and massaging hands and feet – perhaps chatting, perhaps not – is comforting.
• If you cannot talk in person, send them a note or email telling them you care and asking if there is anything you can do. Sometimes practical help is the most welcome, eg, shopping, washing, cooking a meal or watering the plants.
• Being in hospital is boring. Ask if your friend would like a selection of DVD s and/or audio books to listen to at night when they can’t sleep. Offer soothing occupations such as colouring-in books (see top right), knitting or craftwork.
• Once treatment ends, NHS services evaporate and patients can feel abandoned, worried, tired and vulnerable. Shaking off chemo can take up to 18 months and some people will need to take other drugs that can have side effects. Keep checking in to see how they are doing and how you can support them.
For information on how cancer may affect people’s emotions and feelings, visit macmillan.org.uk and cancerresearchuk.org
British beauty brand Sanctuary Spa is encouraging women to relax and de-stress this month with the Colour Me In Candle, as part of its #LetGo campaign. The fragrant candle, made from sustainably sourced palm wax, comes with four colouring pencils, so you can decorate the designs on the box – and let go. The Colour Me In Candle is free when you spend £11 on Sanctuary Spa products in larger Boots stores during October. NB : It is limited-edition, available only while stocks last – so hurry!
WEBSITE OF THE WEEK: raft.ac.uk (Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust)
Margo Marrone, founder of The Organic Pharmacy, made me aware of Raft – an important charity that carries out medical research to help people after major trauma. One project focuses on improving breast reconstruction to make it more reliable, safe and give women the look and feel of natural breasts. The Organic Pharmacy is donating £3 from every sale of its Rose Hip Oil (£29.95) to the fund throughout 2016. Find it at theorganicpharmacy.com.