Does it seem strange to you that your friend is always sad? Surely, if she’s a Christian anyway, she should be coming to terms with her diagnosis by now.
Sadness, or even grief, is a part of the cancer roller coaster, even when the patient is still alive and perhaps doing well. Losing someone or something you love is always painful and sometimes even the thought of loss causes a deep sadness. Even if your friend is set to make a full recovery, she has lost that part of herself that is confident she “won’t ever die.” And that causes a deep sadness.
Everyone deals with grief differently. We all have different coping styles and different personalities. Our life experiences differ, as does our understanding and relationship with God. There are two things that are important for both you and your friend to understand.
1) It is normal to be sad. Her relationships have been dealt a heavy blow. She doesn’t know for sure what the future holds. Perhaps she has been told she won’t be around for long. I was initially not expected to last a year. Then an optimistic oncologist extended that to “maybe even five years if all goes well”. That still didn’t make me happy! I didn’t want to live for five years. I wanted to live for years . . . forever preferably! Even if medical treatment is going well, there is still that lingering doubt at the back of your mind. Will the treatment beat the cancer? Will I ever recover? Will it come back? Feelings of sadness and grief are normal and need to be faced. Only then will healing start to take place.
2) The grief process takes time. It can’t be forced or hurried. Some people quickly come to terms with the situation and are ready to move on. That may be true of your friend. But many find it takes months or even years. I spoke to a new friend recently who shared with me about her husband’s final days—and even today the sadness wells up as she talks about it, ten years later. You, and your friend, need to be patient with one another and talk openly about the situation. Just make sure you keep the conversation as upbeat as possible. And remember—she’s on that roller coaster. You can’t expect her to go up and stay there. The sadness will appear again, probably when you least expect it.
Dealing with sadness.
- Don’t try to ignore the emotion and think it will just go away. You need to deal with it, as does your friend. Sadness, like the other emotions on the cancer roller coaster, is normal. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s your body’s normal reaction to the shock, fear and sense of loss of a cancer diagnosis. At the same time, there are other ways of showing sadness–your friend may not cry. That is also not abnormal. That just means she has a different way of processing her grief.
- Your friend needs support, and so do you. Talk to loved ones and friends, and where possible encourage her to get into a support group. Sometimes people will tell you they want to help both the patient and you. Give them ideas on how they can help, even if it’s only offering a shoulder for her (or you) to cry on.
- Lean on God. If your friend already has a strong faith, help her find comfort through spiritual activities such as prayer, meditation and reading Christian books. If she doesn’t have faith to sustain her, and you’re unsure yourself, please contact someone in leadership at an alive Christian church and set up an appointment to chat to them.
- Watch out for depression. If her grief gets to a point that it seems to be overwhelming, or your friend seems to be sinking toward full depression, look for a counselor who can help her work through the emotions. Don’t you try to be the psychiatrist! She needs you as a friend.
Tips for supporting your friend:
1. Encourage her to take care of herself physically and to deal with her emotions.
2. Help her to face her feelings and address them in tangible ways. She can talk to you or to a counselor, but she must also speak to God in prayer or through the pages of her journal. Finally she needs to talk to herself or even to the cancer . . . again through journaling. Take a look at this post and if you think it might help her, get your friend to read it.
3. See that she takes steps to get sufficient sleep and exercise, and that she is eating well.
4. Don’t try to tell her how she should feel. No two people deal the same with grief. There is no “right time” to “snap out of it.” It’s okay for her to be upset, cry, get mad. See to it that you understand the emotional roller coaster she’s on so that you recognise what she’s going through.
5. Think ahead for difficult dates. Anniversaries of people she loved who died, or of the date of her diagnosis, can bring back emotional turmoil. Talk to her ahead and make plans for the day. Don’t try to ignore the date. Arrange to do something that will honor the person or situation.
7. Assure her that she can phone you for support any time. There will be times it’s easier to talk when you’re not face-to-face. Above all, remember that sadness is a normal loop on the cancer roller-coaster. Hang on tight, go along with the ride, and you will soon experience the next upward swing.