What to say and do when a friend's stuck in hospital with f*cking cancer.
Today I got some news that a dear friend's landed back in hospital. She's been kicking cancer’s butt for a while now but cancer's winning this round and she needs a hand to get through it. I’m heartbroken for her. Life can be a heinous bitch sometimes - unfair and just plain cruel. I wish there was someone that we could blame, direct a decent ass whooping to or at least write a strongly worded letter.
A lot of the time the big ‘C’ is an isolating experience, especially when you end up in hospital wedged between incredibly ill patients twice your age. The things that are familiar disappear when visiting hours’ end and even the solace of sleep is interrupted by regular vital checks, pain, nausea or the noise of other patients.
I feel utterly helpless. It’s such a foreign feeling to be experiencing this from the other side, and I wish I possessed an insider secret on how to make the pain go away. But I don’t. So what can you do? How do you help a friend that is existing in a world close to hell? Everyone is different, but here are the things that helped me.
Please. Don’t bail on letting someone know you are thinking about them because you feel awkward or can’t find the right words. This is something that completely confused and crushed me when I realised how many friends shied from me because my stupid cancer was stuck in the middle. No matter how sick, we’re still the same people – just minus the hair.
MAKE IT SHORT.
When you’re this sick, the energy and concentration needed to read a full inbox feels equal to that needed to run a marathon in flippers. Reading chapters is hard when your brain has been fried by a chemo BBQ. Go easy on the questions, tell them you're thinking of them and you're sending some kick ass love.
If you don't know what to say how about send a joke, the football scores, a YouTube link, a poem or some pretty pictures. Even an emoji will do! You know your friend and what would make them smile.
NEED NOT REPLY.
Let them know you don't want a reply. One of my beautiful friends would always sign off her regular check ins with 'No need to reply.' Those four short words were a blessing. Sometimes the amount of messages I felt I needed to respond to was overwhelming. I needed the love and encouragement but I also needed permission to put a rain check on returning the love.
ANTI FLOWER POWER.
If they’re in an oncology ward, don't send flowers. Super low immune systems can’t fight the bacteria that lives in the plants and vase so they’ll never get through the doors. Perhaps send something to brighten the room and help it feel homely and less sterile. A rug, a photo of friends, some bunting, a hot half naked fireman poster or perhaps a headscarf. (I know where you can get some rad ones at Bravery Co... ;) ) Try to look outside of the hospital shops as there’s usually not much going on in there.
If you’re going to visit, stay for a short while. Be aware they're nauseous, exhausted and struggling to string a sentence together. You will know if they want you to stay longer but give them the easy option to politely leave without any pressure on them.
ONE LAST THING.
This girl, my friend, is kind, gentle and warm. She has a strong and sharp mind matched with an indie hipster style. She is far cooler than I’ll ever be. If you can send some vibes through the air for her today, I will love you forever.
Leaving you with some pretty pictures a friend sent to me everyday while I was up shit creek.