Friday, April 18, 2014

Meeting a Cancer Patient - Some points to keep in mind.

There's a lot of talk of cancer these days. What if your friend or a relative is going through this dreaded ordeal. At some point in your life, you will want to visit a friend or loved one with cancer. It is scary as Hell.
What to say? What to do? How do I help? You want to help, but we don’t know how. What are the rules for a visit with a cancer warrior? Are there any ?

So I have put down some basic points for Calling on the Cancer Warrior:-

1.)  No Denying - It is a little odd.

Its natural to not be sure as to what to say or do when meeting a Cancer patient for the first time. So firstly try and meet the person normally. Dont be looking for horns on his head. Or look down upon him to figure out, as to how bad is his health. Somehow a cancer patent figures out whats in your mind. And for God sake, remove that feeling of Pity from your face. You are there to meet him. He is the same person that you know, Just be normal. 

Just to be clear, I not asking you to be pretty cool and act as if all is well and keep it super light. Sorry but that also is not the case here. So start normal, and gauge the scene. Let the patient talk. Ask basic questions.

2.) Make absolutely, positively, 100% certain you are healthy.

Whether from the chemo, the stress of the illness, or their cancer itself, many cancer patients have compromised immune systems. A little cold  that you have could have serious repercussions for the health of a cancer patient. Also avoid taking your kids to him because they generally have some cold or infections going on. 

Remeber a Cancer patient and his family takes utmost care to keep the house neat and clean and you could have just used a public toilet. So respect the others weakened immunity and act accordingly. So Wash your hands as you reach the house. Ensure you dust your shoes a little. 

3)  Make contact in advance- Fix it up.
Check if he is in good health to meet. Also, the patient is no VIP but trust me, he is going to make his plans as per yours. To take that nap as per your visit time. So respect the other persons time. It anyways good manners. Cancer, and cancer treatment, are exhausting beyond words. How exhausting? Picture yourself as you lie on the couch with your face turned towards the seat cushions. You hear something interesting on the TV, like IPL match. Now, try and imagine that you lack the energy to turn your head towards the TV to see what is on. Yep. That bad. Sometimes worse.

3)  Carrying flowers - Sorry but no need. 

Before you bring anything with you, contact the patient’s caregiver to figure out if the gift would be of any use to the patient. Radiation and chemotherapy play havoc with the senses. What to you is a lovely scented bouquet of flowers might kick off three hours of retching and vomiting for your friend. In addition, many people become highly sensitive to pollen during treatment. A plant might be nice. But ask.
We Indians love to gift food. Dont get something the patient may love to eat but cant. I hated it when my friends got me a box Mitai. Ask if there is anything special you could bring, and anything specific you should avoid. Because for eg An Apple (i-pads etc are welcome anytime) may be a perfect gift to any person recovering from any ailment but due to low immunity my doctor has told me not to have Apples. My brother brought me some x-box CDs once. Trust me, it was the most useful gift at that time.
4)  "Be Positive" - Yes. But dont go overboard. Avoid forced optimism.
Don’t be a cheerleader. “You’re going to be fine. I just know it.”
“Bullshit,” says the patient. “I might freakin’ die. That’s why they’re bolting my head to that goddam table and irradiating my skull. That’s why my body is slowly being carved to pieces. That’s why I get bags of ugly chemicals pumped into my body. You don’t know shit about my illness. I’m laying here, feeling like if I blink 2% too hard, my eyeball is going to fall out of my face, and if I swallow without thinking on it first, I’m going to be curled up in a ball in the bathroom for the next two hours heaving my guts out, 'You’re going to be fine. I just know it?’ ” - No Thank you.
Ok the above was a little uncalled for. Well these mood swings could really be a bitch sometimes. Please forgive a patient if you see him go through a rant. Its the meds and not you. Sudden mood swings are known side effects of chemotherapy. We can be Dolly Bindra at times.
Also don’t play the pity card. Don’t tell a story about your distant cousin's best friend's Aunt who’s a cancer survivor. Fact is, in the midst of my cancer, I don’t care. I’ve got my own problems right here, thankyouverymuch. As cancer fighters and survivors, we’re good at finding our own inspiration. Hang out with me, that’s all I ask.

5)  Physical contact. Ask first.

Cancer hurts. Sometimes, the pain cannot be imagined. Sometimes, a hug can be agony. Sometimes, you need a hug, a bit of human warmth and contact to remind you that you’re not alone. 
For example, some times I go ahead with the handshake and some times I avoid it, depending on how far I am from Monday (my regular chemos days) So dont feel odd and simply ask.

6)  Dont become that all GYAN and Advice giving Guru.

You must do Yoga, Pranayam, Dancing, Skating, Power Yoga, Some tree worship, meditate entire day, stop every thing and just do Yoga, like just right now or maybe hang on a tree upside down. Well thanks but again no thanks. Do feel free to provide your advice but please dont go about pushing it. I am sure the patient (who does want to get well) is doing all that he can do to get well. Which includes the non medical things. Just dont push him too much.

6)  Be there now.
If your friend wants to talk; then talk.See what kind of mood he is in. He maybe in a great mood or maybe just in middle of a long week of being low. Listen, really listen, to what they’re saying. They’re talking with their eyes, and body language, as well as their words. Pay some attention. 
They like/love your company. Trust me. The fact that you took out time and came to meet, means a lot. And they know it. All they need is your support.
You do realize, don’t you, that you too, are stressed? You do realize that your angst fills the room? It is hard to watch someone suffer, someone in fear, someone in pain. Let your heart fill with compassion, not pity, and join with them in your heart for a few moments. Don’t share your heartache. Let go of your pain and watch them relax along with you.
“He who attends on the sick attends on me.” - Buddha
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