Jo Sea­gar:

When some­one you care about is di­ag­nosed with can­cer, it can be dif­fi­cult to know what to do to help. Jo Sea­gar of­fers some sup­port­ive ad­vice.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - Contents -

sup­port­ing friends through the big C

Some­times it seems as if ev­ery­one you know has breast can­cer, or at least has some­one close to them who does. It’s not just my imag­i­na­tion – in New Zealand, one out of nine woman will be af­fected by the dis­ease. So it’s quite pos­si­ble some­one close to you could re­ally use your sup­port.

In the face of such a se­ri­ous dis­ease it’s hard to know what to do to be help­ful with­out be­ing in­tru­sive. So how should you re­act?

I think the most im­por­tant thing is learn­ing to put their needs above your own. Your friend doesn’t need you to be so dis­traught about their di­ag­no­sis that they end up sup­port­ing you.

Of course there’s no “one size fits all” – ev­ery pa­tient has dif­fer­ent needs and th­ese can change daily. But your best job de­scrip­tion is to be some­one who helps lighten the load, both prac­ti­cally and emo­tion­ally, and to let your friend know she’s not alone.

So many peo­ple dis­ap­pear when the go­ing gets tough – they’re scared, they don’t know what to say or do, they feel for some rea­son in­ad­e­quate, so they avoid any con­tact. But it’s bet­ter to pick up the phone and ad­mit you’re com­pletely flum­moxed. A con­ver­sa­tion of “I don’t know what to say but I’m think­ing of you” is per­haps all that’s nec­es­sary. But it is nec­es­sary.

Other things are not. A self-help book on beat­ing can­cer may seem like a thought­ful gift, but it’s bet­ter left on the shop shelf, as this is some­thing the pa­tient needs to choose if they want to. The same goes for mir­a­cle cures – avoid sug­ges­tions of cure-all kale smooth­ies, oxy­gen tank treat­ments in Mex­ico and the lat­est feel­good can­cer counter-mea­sure from the in­ter­net. And telling some­one they don’t look sick as a well-mean­ing com­pli­ment is not help­ful. They may not even feel sick un­til they start treat­ment such as chemo­ther­apy.

When a doc­tor tells a pa­tient they have can­cer, the word is so loaded and emo­tive it’s hard for them to hear any­thing else. So a sup­port­ive friend can of­fer to go to ap­point­ments with the pa­tient, to take notes. There’s a lot to take in – doc­tors’ names, ap­point­ment times, the team mem­bers and their roles and the over­all plan of ac­tion. Jot­ting it all down can be re­ally help­ful.

Un­der­stand­ing the phys­i­cal changes the di­ag­no­sis man­i­fests is also good. The side­ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy, surgery and ra­dio­ther­apy can be vi­cious. Fol­low the sched­ule and keep up with the play. Know what day the treat­ments are – even if you’re not go­ing with the pa­tient, stick around, call, text or visit. And don’t lose your sense of hu­mour – keep­ing that is im­por­tant.

Try not to let your sup­port ta­per off. Of­ten the end of treat­ment is the hard­est time, and when words of love and en­cour­age­ment are needed most.

Your friend­ship also in­volves ex­tra­or­di­nary diplo­macy – it’s a del­i­cate bal­ance gaug­ing how much to give and how much to pull back. It is up to the woman who has the ill­ness to de­cide how she makes her way through it, so don’t be of­fended if your of­fer of gen­eros­ity – a girls’ day at the spa or a week­end get­away – is re­jected. Of­fer prac­ti­cal help, such as walk­ing the dog, fold­ing the laun­dry, re­stock­ing the fridge and fill­ing the tins.

While not want­ing to ap­pear flip­pant, I’ve al­ways thought there was never a bet­ter time to ar­rive with fudge. So here is my recipe for fudgy de­li­cious­ness – this is a time for small treats!

Don’t lose your sense of hu­mour – keep­ing that is im­por­tant.

Easy mi­crowave choco­late fudge

1 can (400g) sweet­ened con­densed milk 500g dark choco­late, chopped into small pieces 1 tea­spoon vanilla 50g but­ter Place all in­gre­di­ents in a medium-large mi­crowave bowl and cook on High for 1 minute. Stir, then mi­crowave in bursts of 30 sec­onds, stir­ring af­ter each burst, un­til smoothly melted and com­bined (about 4 min­utes). Pour into a well sprayed or bak­ing paper-lined tin, about 20cm x 20cm, and cool. Chill to set firmly be­fore cut­ting into bite-size pieces. Store in the fridge. Adding 1 cup of chopped dried fruit, nuts or marsh­mal­lows be­fore pour­ing into the tin makes for great vari­a­tions.

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