Don’t Stop At Flowers

Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the stars or maybe it’s just shitty luck - but the past month just seems to have come over all ... cancer-y.

It feels like a week can’t go by without hearing of someone else’s diagnosis. This used to fill me with the cold fear of a true anxiety-ridden hypochondriac: ‘what if it’s ME NEXT!?’, I’d blindly panic. But now, I just want to give a big cuddle to all those involved.

I went and got myself diagnosed with stage 3 anal cancer last year (Yes, I know - gross. Yes, I know - wow). One of the side-effects of this is I now receive many cancer-related questions from friends and strangers. And the one that has been popping up more frequently this year has been, ‘A friend has just been diagnosed ... what can I do?’

So here are five very practical, very easy steps you can take when you first receive the terrible cancer call from someone you love.

1. Get your text on

Start sending messages on the reg. Not questions, or weepy emojis - but just short, light reminders that you are thinking of them. This might be pictures of a beautiful sunset you saw on your evening walk, or hot pics of a shirtless Zac Efron ... whatever floats your boat.

2. Go old skool

Sometimes, digital isn’t enough. Consider what gift would be most ‘them’. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive or floral. A card is enough: there are some great funny cancer cards out there (yes, really!) A bag of glossy magazines, a lush potted houseplant or a massage voucher are all really welcomed. There will be opportunities to send chemo-friendly gifts later, around diagnosis time they will likely just want chocolate. And gin.

3. Make offers you can follow through on

The hardest question to respond to is, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do!’
Instead, provide concrete options they can choose from. For instance, doing the school pickup; dropping off dinner on a Wednesday; walking the dog or going for a cheeky midday cinema visit.

4. Encourage healthy habits

NO, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT KALE. This is about mental health.

Your loved-one is likely so twisted up in the post-diagnosis haze that it can be hard to know what feelings are normal and what’s not. Keep an eye on them and if you see signs of depression or trauma, call it out. Mental wellbeing is crucial during cancer treatment - and professional, psychological support can make all the difference.

5. Remember: it’s OK that you don’t have cancer too

Often people are paralysed by not wanting to ‘say the wrong thing’. It’s OK! Just because they’ve been recently diagnosed doesn’t mean they’re suddenly wearing the Magical Cancer Knowledge Hat: they have no f*cking idea what they’re doing either! As long as you remain positive, open andyourself then you will be the best support you possibly can be.

~ This article was first published on Whimn ~