Thursday 30 October 2014

What do you do?

In my last post I talked about those well-meaning throwaway comments made to people with cancer which might have less than the desired effect. I found it a tricky post to write as uppermost in my mind was the fact that nobody wishes to offend and everybody means to say the right thing. With one man's compliment being another women's slap in the face, it's a minefield for those without privileged entry into a cancer sufferer's chaotic mind. Nonetheless, I hope the post was useful. Your responses were, as ever, thoughtful and touching.

I'm happy to say that I'm back in my comfort zone with this post. It was inspired by the lovely Chriss Green, prolific sharer of my blog for which I'm supremely grateful, who suggested I list things people have said which hit a good spot.

I started scribbling immediately but quickly realised that it was the things people had DONE rather than those they'd said, which stuck more in my mind. So, instead of words, I've listed some of the bountiful gifts and good-deeds people have bestowed upon me over the past ten months. This isn't a definitive list of how to empty your money box or eat up your already hard-pressed time when you find out someone close to you is suffering, and it won't be for everyone, but I hope my experience might offer a few nuggets of usefulness.

And at least I get the chance to say thank you :)

Meals on Wheels
People would ask me to let them know what help I needed. They truly wanted to help - but it feels wrong to ask somebody with a job, various children, a dog, family taxi service and clean toilets to provide, to run around for me when I'm confined to the sofa.

This doesn't mean that help wasn’t gratefully received - even getting dressed was a bit of an effort on my worst treatment days - and so to open my door on several mornings to find a meal for four requiring only a re-heat and transportation to the table, was wonderful. My Meals on Wheels deliveries made me smile and I'd just like to say a public thank you here, as well as an apology for not always returning the Tupperware in a timely fashion.

Picking my children up from clubs and feeding them
Thank you.

Picking me up from home and taking me for a coffee
(and appointments) Thank you.

Supermarket delights
With special thanks to the Marks and Spencer Dine-in initiative.

Bags of healthy food, home-made chocolate brownies, cakes and bought cakes (I'm not choosy)
Thank you.

Loans of DVDs and books
Again, thank you.

Personally, I'm not a great fan of speaking on the phone. I blame my poor hearing which makes the process excruciatingly painful for all parties involved. But I had some sleepless nights and painful days through chemo and receiving texts out of the blue saying simply that I was in people's thoughts, was a great tonic. With my treatment induced lethargy however, responding could take chunks out of my day so I hope you'll accept my apology for the tardy replies.

As above. I have kept them all :)

This may sound terribly materialistic but to know that someone is thinking of you when they go shopping (and I know that often presents came after much research and probing of shop staff's knowledge) touched my heart.

Most practical gift? There were so many! Warm items of clothing went down well – I wore my fluffy pink angora wool socks constantly as well as my Bamboo Chic Lite cardigan. It isn't particularly that treatments make you cold, it's just that our house is Baltic if you aren't running up and down the stairs every second minute.

Most used item? Probably my Anastasia Beverly Hills eyebrow kit. People expressed their delight that I'd held onto my eyebrows – I hadn't ;) Luxury hand and body creams were also a great buy as cancer treatments really dry out the skin. I was lucky enough to be given lots of luscious products I wouldn't normally afford which I'm still using now.

Most tear-inducing? My four-leaf clover bracelet, four-leaf clover necklace (there's a theme here), message and pocket sized hearts. And don't get me started on the hand-made ring given to me shortly after the wedding of one of my closest friends, which I couldn't attend due to an incredibly poorly timed third operation.

Home visits?
I learnt something about myself during chemo: I don't like to see people when I'm ill. I prefer to lick my wounds on my own, cushioned by my home, cancelled appointments and my texting fingers for when things are improving. And then when I'm recovered, that's when I like to see people. Of course, one person's nightmare is another's delight so it's probably worth asking the question.

Showing you know
Everybody wants the cancer to be treated and consigned to the past post haste. Having treatments behind you is wonderful but the fear that the cancer will return is massive. I've needed my friends and family more mentally post treatment than during it. While you're to-ing and fro-ing to hospital for the potpourri of chemicals and radiation assigned to you, you're invincible. The brilliance of modern science and your medical team are all over this little cancer blighter. Pah! Those piffling little cancer cells wouldn't have a chance against drugs which make your hair fall out and turn your bones to putty. 

But when treatment ends and it's you, your body and a measly little tablet fighting the good fight, staying mentally strong enough to banish the fear to the back of your mind can be tough -particularly when every drug-induced side-effect or contact with bugs with a weakened immune system feels incontrovertibly like the return of cancer. Those of us who have beaten cancer or who are in remission are the lucky ones and I never forget that but sometimes the dark thoughts can be over-powering and it's easy to feel a little alone at this post-treatment time.

We're all so busy and I personally find that as soon as one person I know edges out of a crisis situation, another moves in. But showing you know doesn't have to be time-consuming. A word or a hug to remind your friend that you know the shadow of cancer is still pretty overwhelming, or that the side-effects of drugs can be depressing, might be all your friend needs to help them get on with the business of living.

Anyone who's had a baby will know that when your new-born is tiny and cute and sleeping a lot, everybody comes to visit. Then the visits stop and you're left with the magnitude of looking after this new little person who is sleeping less, feeding more and making more washing. Right now is when you could really do with someone holding the baby while you put the tea on.

Cancer is a little bit like that. Lots of people visit at the beginning and it's a very human, touching reaction. But if you're well before treatment starts, this period can be very busy. The same pending-birth-nesting need kicks in and suddenly having clean bed linen, every item of school uniform washed and neatly pressed, full cupboards, full freezer and a sparkling toilet in place before your operation, becomes monumentally important. And then there's the children's schedule to organise for the three weeks post op when you won't be driving - the cancer will not make them miss out on any of their activities mantra beating inside your head - supper to arrange because you won't be entertaining for a while and work to finish for previously made deadlines set smack in the middle of a dose of morphine.

So, I'd like to suggest you take the pressure off yourself. Visits are lovely but don’t feel guilty if you can't rush around the moment you find out – sending a message and arranging to meet once your friend is out of hospital might actually be more relaxing and helpful for both. 

So, that's my list. Can you add any top tips? I love to read your comments.

By the way, did I say thank you enough?? This wouldn't have been a year I'd have chosen but nonetheless, I look back upon it with a smile. I've seen lots more of my friends and family than I normally would and who could possibly complain about that? 


  1. It's the little things that make such a big difference, isn't it? I'm glad you have so many people around you to help out.

  2. Thanks Annalisa, and yes, you're absolutely right!

  3. Jax i have tried to comment 3 times now but goole is so flippin annoying! but obviously there are far more thingsthat are annoying than this what i wanted to say was....

    You are so worth it! You are soloved & loveable by so many and have given so much that a little is coming back your way!

    1. Awww Antonia, that made me gulp, thank you :) And I'm sorry about the comments thing, it is sooo annoying, I agree.


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