Friend Just Diagnosed - Few questions, and what do you wish people would do?

TrudyTrudy Community Member
First, thanks for reading.

A good online friend of mine (we're both sort-of hermits who have a considerably bigger online friendship circle than RL) went to the hospital yesterday for a hysterectomy after they discovered a mass that couldn't easily be extracted otherwise. While we have a malignant diagnosis, she doesn't have much more in the way of details (e.g., staging info). She should have that on Monday.

I had already planned to send something (Shari's Berries at the suggestion of her housemate - I asked a few days in advance of her surgery) and do some art for her as a gift before we got the cancer diagnosis post-hysterectomy. However, I have some anxieties about coming across as smothering - even though these were things that I planned to do even before the diagnosis. I'm still doing it, but I feel more cognizant of and worried about her feelings than I would normally be. This isn't to say that I wouldn't normally be concerned about them (anxiety and supernatural empathy sees to it that I'm hypersensitive to everyone's feelings) - I'm now just in a state of constant vigilance / overanalysis. I don't want to put any undue stress or emotional burden on her right now, and I don't want her to feel a sense of obligation towards me for doing nice things I would have done for her anyway.

I spoke with my psychologist yesterday and she said that most of her patients with cancer have been hurt by the lack of support rather than too much of it. Which brings me to a series of questions that I hope will help me to better help my friend while she gets through this time (thanks in advance for any help you can provide!):

1. What do you wish that people would do that they don't? What do people do that you wish they wouldn't?

2. Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the attention? What should I do to ensure that I don't overwhelm her? I'm trying to give her space to process right now (her housemate and best friend is there to support her in-person right now and I'm sure she's her primary support for the time being, by virtue of being physically present), but at the same time I don't want to overwhelm her. I'm still trying to find that balance.

3. How were you supported remotely from friends / family that were far away that helped you a great deal?

4. Should I act like things are normal? My knee-jerk reaction is not to burden her with my own trivial grievances about work or my housemate or my art while she's coping with this, but I'm also worried that she does need that normalcy in her life. What did you want for yourself?

My number one objective right now is to make sure she knows she's supported and loved. Figuring out how to make sure she knows this is difficult, especially when she usually feels guilty about gifts and has her own anxiety sometimes about making sure everyone around her is happy / not upset. I'm hoping that with some perspective I can get a better feel for how to support her while she's working through this.

Thanks again for reading - and for any suggestions you can offer.

Best Answers

  • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • I think your psychologist is exactly right... The most distressing thing as a cancer patient is to have friends that used to talk to me regularly disappear from my life after a "I'm so sorry, let me know if there is anything I can do" - then I never hear from them again. It's great to ask or even better offer specific things because everyone has different needs/likes the key is following up even if they say at the time they don't need anything. A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming especially at first, but don't be afraid to send regular messages letting them know you are thinking of them... Just don't always expect or worry if you don't get a response - it doesn't necessarily mean they didn't enjoy your message they may just not have energy or be ready to respond. I tend not to answer when people ask how I am when I'm still waiting for test results because I feel I don't know myself! I've also found I get a lot of support when something key happens like diagnosis or when I found I had brain mets - all of a sudden everyone wanted to visit/chat with me at once. Yet there is so much other time when no one thinks of me yet I'm still sick in treatment, so don't forget to send those friendly messages especially after the rush of support may wear off. As for acting normal... I think a lot of us with cancer wish to have some "normal" time, so maybe take her lead if you are chatting and she talks about her cancer listen otherwise maybe share a funny story of something that happened to you recently or other miscellaneous stuff. I would go light on on bringing up your problems unless she expresses interest - I think the key is not necessarily not saying anything but don't dwell on complaining about little issues... I don't find this much but I do hear about others with cancer getting annoyed about others complaining a lot about petty stuff. In my case I feel less isolated when people talk to me normally which means they include mention of things that bothered them. Sometimes the best policy is to ask her directly what she likes/doesn't. As for sending gifts (especially those you already had planned) I would still do that... I'm always saying I don't need anything but when people send me something it still makes me smile :)

    That's a little scattered but hopefully it helps.
  • I definitely have some trouble accepting help at times... Maybe in part I don't want others to put themselves out but mostly I think it has to with me being 31 years old and wanting to be independent! For example people from work have volunteered in the past to give me rides to and from treatment - I accepted this help when I really wasn't feeling well but as long as I'm feeling ok I prefer the independence of driving myself. Food is a great idea though, I often struggle with having energy to grocery shop or cook... My parents gifted me money for a service that delivers ready made meals which was great. I also used to order groceries from Amazon Fresh until they added an large annual fee, now my parents bring groceries every other week and ask me each time what I feel like eating (which changes depending on how my stomach feels). The one time I had chemo as part of my immunotherapy and lost all my hair a friend at work put together a basket of scarves and hats for me which was sweet... I never had to ask so I didn't feel guilty. I think offering specific helps and make it clear you want to help (vs just helping because you think they aren't capable of taking care of themselves) instead of always just saying "anything you need". A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming though so you can send stuff, message, and offer help... If you don't get a response wait and offer again or just say hi again at a later date. Don't worry too much! The most important thing is you are there for your friend and care :)


  • TrudyTrudy Community Member
    edited April 20 Vote Up0Vote Down
    Thanks so much, Mishanne - your comment really does help!

    I bought her a card last night ( and I'm agonizing over what to write it in now. One of my big concerns is that I don't want her to think that I'm putting myself out for her and that I want her to know that I'm only going to offer to do the things that I know I can and am willing to do. I think that might be something easier said in a card than through one of our chats.

    Did you have similar concerns regarding other people putting themselves out? Was there anything someone could have said to you to mitigate any guilt (or any other emotion) you felt? I'm considering coordinating something with her housemate so she doesn't have to feel bad about accepting something from me (e.g., buying a restaurant gift card so they can order take out on a whim when they don't feel like cooking), especially since everything I've read online has mentioned taking care of the primary caregiver -- and I want to do that, too. At the same time, I don't want her to feel like I'm pushing this on her. I don't know. Emotions: they're difficult.
  • TrudyTrudy Community Member
    Thanks, Mishanne. I definitely feel loads better. Things are going to take some time to adjust, but knowing that my thinking's about at the right place helps.

    Sending you good vibes, too. <3