The first step in supporting your friend with cancer is to forget about making a big speech about how terrible it is, how devastated you feel, how you can’t bear the thought of losing them, how precious every single moment is now, how you’re going to be there, side by side, fighting this thing together.
You’re in shock, you feel awful, of course. But being the best friend you’ve always been means not making this about you, certainly not in front of your friend and their family.
And you certainly don’t want to turn up looking like you’ve just been dragged out of a river, blubbing all over your sick friend’s shirt.
Do your crying at home, wash your face, get it together and don’t add to the emotional burden of your friend who is probably trying to get her bearings on a roller-coaster without end.
In the main, lending support is a doing thing, and not so much a talking thing, even when it comes to that most powerful gift: Showing your willingness to listen and to understand and to allow your friend the freedom to feel what she and he feels, and at the same time make no assumptions about what those feelings are.
The magic trick to pull off is to know when you’re needed, and when you’re not, and when in good grace to leave that casserole on the doorstep, give a gentle knock and scoot off into the evening like a magic fairy.
You’re not going to say: Don’t cry, it’s God’s will. I know how you feel, it will all be OK, cheer up, you aren’t going to die.
And don’t sulk if the roster for cooking meals and helping get the children to school is already full – and your name is not on it.
There are forgotten-about kiddie birthday parties, dental appointments and play dates that pop up out of the blue. There is always the dog to wash and walk. The garden to weed. Ironing.
In other words, stay engaged and come up with specific suggestions at to how you can help, which brings us to another do not:
Do you really want to be a friend? Be the friend you always were.
Suggest friend things to do. Let’s go to the movies. How about the latest big exhibition at the art gallery … or the pictures you can see for free? Or high tea somewhere chintzy. Or a morning walk in the botanical gardens and a good old laugh about this crazy world.
Or suggest daily or weekly walks to commit to a fitness goal and get a breath of fresh air – or even sign up to the Mother’s Day Classic with a bunch of mates to show your enthusiasm and support.
And then, in a quiet moment, wherever you are, as if it’s nothing, in language that’s as light as a sponge, ask her or him: “So how are you travelling?”
And listen to the answer.
The New Daily is a media partner of the Women in Super Mother’s Day Classic, which takes place in 100 locations across Australia on Sunday, May 12, raising money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation to help fund life-saving breast cancer research projects. Registrations are open here.