One of the emotions associated with the cancer roller coaster often peaks for such short periods it is overlooked. Nevertheless it's a very real part of the ride, and it would be good if we could find ways to make it last longer. I'm talking about the attitude of gratitude. Those brief moments when the person on the cancer journey is overwhelmed with feelings of gratefulness.
For me, I often experienced a lift in emotions when my severely compromised blood count turned and started to approach the lower edge of normal. For others there may be a relationship that blossoms as a result of cancer, or the joy of getting out of doors on a beautiful day. Short moments may remind your friend that it's good to be alive: a game of golf, a walk through dew-soaked gardens or waking in the morning after a good night's sleep.
As a friend, try to identify these special moments and do what you can to draw them out. Make a note of them, and chat about them with your friend at times when things are more difficult.
You may find your friend sees their cancer as a "wake-up call." He or she may come to see the importance of enjoying the little things in life. The cancer survivor may enjoy spending more time with their family and special friends.
Continue to encourage your friend to journal, and make sure she makes a note of the things that make her smile. Encourage her to keep a gratitude journal, where she jots down the things that bring joy--even a simple thing like cuddling her pet or having coffee with a friend. The important thing is to make sure these events are recorded, so that they do not slip by unnoticed. Then when things are rough again, your friend can take out her journal and read the good times, hopefully bringing a smile to her face and a feeling of hope to her spirits.
Having cancer changes you. It may strip away pretence and leave your friend aware of what is real and what truly counts in life. Betty Ford once remarked that cancer strikes not only the body, but also the spirit. When we face the mortality of the body, we are often grateful for events, people and qualities that we previously took for granted.
A Swedish study of breast cancer patients found that "relationships became more valuable" during and after treatment. Cancer treatment tests the strength of relationships. Marriages and friendships are sometimes shattered by the disease. Others are greatly strengthened by the stress of cancer. Encourage your friend to take note of the positive changes in relationships and to give thanks for them.
A ride on the cancer roller coaster usually leaves the patient appreciating life and health, where once it was taken for granted. It brings fears into focus instead of some vague feeling of unease. Encourage your friend to speak openly, and to encourage other women on the ride.
As the treatment period draws near to an end, friends may well find themselves faced with big decisions for the future. Cancer often brings about a permanent change in the way of life. They may switch careers. A new life-style may present itself. Share your friend's enthusiasm for any new opportunities, and support them in new ventures.
The end of treatment may bring overpowering joy. It may also bring a sense of concern and vulnerability. Be ready for that, and don't judge your friend. Help her to appreciate the good things of being able to move forward without a full calendar of appointments, treatments and blood tests.
The peaks of gratitude may be sharp and short-lasting, but as a friend, do all you can to capitalize on them. They will do a lot to carry your friend through the next down-swoop of the roller coaster.