Strategies to surviving with someone who is surviving cancer

Brooke LakeIn 2012 both of my parents were diagnosed with cancer. My mom first, with breast cancer, then my dad, with multiple myeloma. Call it bad luck, but 2012 was a very sick year for my family.
My mom went into remission the same month my dad was diagnosed. Today my father is fighting kidney failure and pneumonia, in addition to bone cancer.

I admit to having moments of withdrawal. I will be sitting in class, talking with a friend, or doing something at work, then all of a sudden I will slide into a memory. It is that feeling one encounters when you slide into a steamy hot bath — surrounded a sensation of pinching comfort. Often times, I flashback to watching my father drinking wine while musing over Istanbul.

He would sit peacefully in a black leather chair for hours just staring at the city lights. In that moment he was happy, he was healthy. Then like a splash of cold water, I am thrown back into the reality that someone I love is dying.

How does one even begin to wrap their mind around such a travesty?

Empathy.

My number one support system throughout this whole cancer battle has been my best friend, Husam, who lives in Baghdad, Iraq. Husam’s father has also been battling cancer for some time now.

What I most value from our conversations is the utmost honesty that presents itself. When we talk, its not the awkward, “Damn, that’s rough. I don’t even know how to relate.” Instead its full of screaming, crying, deep breathes, angry rants, moments of freaking out — it’s empathy.

He may be halfway around the globe but the fact that he can relate to the irrational evil that has presented itself in my life matters. When I have to witness my father require assistance with putting on his socks, taking a shower or going to the bathroom, part of my heart breaks. Frankly, I do not want a sympathetic hug, or a fake “Everything is going to be okay.” I need to decompress with a fellow human.

I choose to share my experience of being a daughter of parents who both have and continue to suffer from cancer not for sympathy, but for clarification.

To those of you who have friends battling cancer or have someone close who has been diagnosed, I have some advice for you: do not ignore their suffering.

I have seen it countless times where instead of making any attempt at encouragement or support, my peers will ignore the issue entirely. They do not know how to relate, it is uncomfortable to talk about, and your friend suffering never seems to bring it up. True friendships will have moments of awkwardness. If you want to be there for a friend dealing with cancer, make sure to inquire about the situation and their associated feelings, and often.

Cancer is a long term hardship, which requires sustainable support. This tends to be forgotten when friends send their one stop flower deposit on your doorstep with a note that reads, “You’re in my prayers and thoughts.”

Shooting your grieving friend a one-time message of encouragement is not going to cut it. If you want to be a support system, then you need to realize that you are in it for the long haul.

Grief rears its ugly head at inconvenient times. Remember that the grief we feel when a loved one suffers from cancer does not fade. It spikes and diminishes at random moments, yet evolves over time. I need friends who choose to love me even at times of inconvenience. Anyone who has dealt with such grief understands that it is the little things that can spark an episode.

Instead of swallowing the tears and wave of pain, I choose to hold up my my flag, albeit small, and say “I am not doing okay. I need a friend.”

If you are in the same boat as me I want you to understand something: You are allowed to feel confused, angry and scared, but please don’t forget to allow yourself to grieve in community with people who care.

If you choose to be a friend to someone fighting, be active, attentive and consistent.