Published on December 19th, 2013 | by April Best

What I Wish My Friends Had Known When I Was Sick

Relationships are complicated under the best circumstances: good health, financial security, a supportive community. Add a physical or mental illness to the mix and the results can be unpredictable and destructive.

Communication between someone giving care and someone receiving it can feel like yelling across the the Grand Canyon; no one is adequately heard or understood. No books or articles can adequately prepare you to face the relationship challenge of serious illness.

In November, I celebrated three years of remission from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I am, however, only six months into my emotional healing from the experience of cancer.

I felt abandoned by friends and family during my treatment. There was an initial swarm of monetary support, visits in the hospital, and vague offers of assistance. The support disappeared as the reality of the diagnosis and physical side-effects became more prevalent and the divide separating ME and THEM grew exponentially. This perceived ‘abandonment’ led to a two-year, self-induced isolation that crushed my spirit.

While there are no set rules for how to give and receive support, I can offer some advice from my experience. Here’s what I wish my friends had known when I was sick…and what I wish I had known as well.

Ways to connect with someone who is ill

  1. Act. Don’t wait for them to ask for help, they may very well never do it.
  2. Show up at their appointments or treatments. If it makes you uncomfortable, acknowledge that and then go, try, it will mean the world.
  3. Respect their boundaries, and realize those might change. What their boundaries are after they are first diagnosed may not be the same after three weeks. Check in frequently.
  4. Be honest about your feelings. Are you scared? Tell them, because they are too. No one wants to be scared alone.
  5. Emotional connection and companionship are worth more than any monetary gift.

Ways to connect with your loved ones when you are ill

  1. Ask. In the beginning you will receive offers of help every day. As time goes on, those offers will become less frequent, and it will be essential that you ask when you need help physically or support mentally.
  2. Acknowledge those who are a support. Send a card, make a phone call, or provide a hug to someone who is filling a need.
  3. Be honest about your feelings. Forget trying to be strong for those around you. You will have to deal with your feelings, and it is better to deal with them as they come up rather than putting them off for another day.

What do you do when the relationship has been damaged?

Six months ago, I began to examine my heart and take responsibility for my role in the loss of a supportive community. I allowed my hurt to become anger that eventually turned into self-isolation. Taking responsibility meant reaching out and reconciling with those I expected to approach me first.

Setting pride aside, I initiated a few uncomfortably honest conversations. The results were eye-opening. I learned that my friends and family were scared by my illness. They confessed that they lacked the skills/knowledge on how to support me. A number of them had recently experienced a serious illness themselves or had lost someone, and my diagnosis was too much for them to bear. Their wounds were still fresh, so instead of leaning into my need, they pulled back.

After mutual forgiveness, my community has been restored. I am no longer yelling from the other side of a divide, aching to be heard. I am a testament of the power of reconciliation. Be encouraged—what may feel like a rift the size of the Grand Canyon can be filled by your courage.

Photo by M Fullmer via Stock.Xchng

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