On Your Diagnosis as the Friend of a Terminally Ill Person

Care packages come in all shapes and sizes.

Have you recently been diagnosed as the friend or family member of someone with cancer? If so, let me first say that I’m sorry. That sucks.

It’s not an easy job to be a caregiver. You’ve got your work cut out for you. As you’ve probably come to expect, I have some thoughts. And here they are, in no particular order:

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Lean on your friends. NEVER apologize for being emotional with those in your inner circle. That’s why they are there. They want you to express yourself without apology, and they want to uphold you. If you find that they are turning to you for support instead of the other way around, you may want to let go of them for a little while. “Being there” for them is not something you should be called on to do right now. Us cancer patients take up a lot of time and emotional energy. You’ve got your hands full, kid.

Flowers are not allowed in 3K. If you want to let your person know that you are thinking of them during their chemotherapy, send a text, preferably with a hilarious joke or meme. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Cake Wrecks. They always make me tear up and shudder with stifled laughter, so if you’re hoping to make your person look like a happy idiot in the infusion suite, send them links like this. His/her nurse will love you.

No one with cancer looks as bad as this gal.

I received so many deeply thoughtful care packages when I began chemotherapy more than two years ago. Lots of cozy socks, pampering products, and things to pass the time. Here is the care package I didn’t receive but think would be very useful: a small, adorable bag with a USB charging brick, Bluetooth headphones, and charging cords for both their phone and headphones. Make sure the phone charging cord is a long one so that they can plug in and still use it no matter where the outlet is.

When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t want a GoFundMe. I didn’t think it was necessary and therefore not fair to ask friends to donate money when my plan was to zap the cancer and head back to work. When it became clear that the Zap It & Move On plan wasn’t going to pan out, I agreed with my people who encouraged me to allow it. Five minutes ago, when I asked my kids what gestures or gifts made them feel supported through all of this, my oldest immediately thought of that campaign. The generosity of givers and the security of a financial safety net made a huge difference to him. I’m so glad that my pride didn’t get in the way of something that my kids found so comforting.

Here’s an important thing for you to remember and for you to assure your person of: there is almost always someone available to help you with your problem. I learned that lesson all over again this week as I struggled with the switch from Vermont Health Connect health insurance to Medicare. It’s not pretty, and it’s way more expensive. I’ve been so overwhelmed by the complexity and expense of it all. It wasn’t easy to begin the process of finding people to help me sort through it, but it was worth the effort because there they were. (Shout outs to Samantha at the Community Health Clinic at Mt. Ascutney Hospital and to Kabray Rockwood at The Rockwood Agency for all of your help… it ain’t over, but we’re getting there.) Edit: It’s 11:36 P.M. I literally just hung up with my friend Mike after texting him in a panic because it’s raining in my dining room and he knows more about plumbing than anyone else on Team Kerry. His recommended fans are in place by the leak, and he will send a guy over tomorrow to replace the innards of my commode. It’s good to know who to call.

Grace, warily inspecting tonight's plumbing event.

Check out this book on facing mortality and vulnerability: Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved). Read it. Give it as a gift. Follow Kate Bowler on Twitter.

Finally, say the things that are on your mind or in your heart. And if saying them is too difficult or awkward, write them. But not in a post or a tweet. In ink. Write the feelings, the worries, the quirks, and the memories. Tell them how you feel not because they are dying; rather tell them because you are both alive right now, and it’s better to know. 

Wishing you better health than mine and drier ceilings.

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