Friday, February 09, 2007
Handling a friend's diagnosis
Sitting on my desk is a get-well card. It's addressed and stamped, but the inside is blank. A woman I know recently learned she has cancer. She's not a close friend, but her gentle spirit and beautiful smile always have touched me. I want her to know that if she needs anything, I am her girl, but I don't want to appear too nosy. I also want to be optimistic, yet I don't want to come off as a "Pollyanna." After all, cancer is serious business.
Not exactly sure what to do, I called Christine Miserandino. She is the founder of butyoudontlooksick.com. Christine has lupus and she talks with other seriously ill people all the time. "People get weird," says Christine. "Often they think you don't want to do the same things you did before, like get your nails done or go to the movies... but as I remind people, it's the same me." Christine also offers these suggestions:
1) Forget the flowers - think more practical. "What girl doesn't love flowers?" says Christine. But after a while, the house or hospital room may start looking like a mortuary. Christine suggests buying a gift certificate for something your friend needs, like a maid or grocery-delivery service. Remember when people are sick, energy is low and money is often tight.
2) When visiting, come prepared. Boredom is often a side effect of illness. When visiting, bring something you can do together, like a movie or a game. Christine says she started making scrapbooks and it was a great way to think about happy times.
3) Do your research. Find out whether your friend is on a special diet or is craving a special treat. Also some hospitals don't allow balloons or flowers. Some treatments can also mess with the sense of smell, so before you invest in bath supplies or candles, ask.
4) Call Ahead. Know your friend's schedule, when he or she gets treatment or is sleeping. Also, even if you have made plans, call an hour before, to make sure they are still up for a visit.
5) Get real. When Christine's lupus was diagnosed, it drove her crazy how some people would pussy foot around the diagnosis. "Don't tell me I will feel better. I might not." Christine has a wicked sense of humor, so she designed a shirt with the words "Lupus Sucks." That shirt, she says, built bridges with her lupus brethren and broke the ice with countless other people.
That card is still sitting on my desk, but I now know what I will write.
What are some things you do to support someone who is seriously ill? Have you ever been annoyed by a well-meaning friend when you were sick?
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