Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
I have a friend with cancer. She has a large support team that’s
helping with everything from cooking to shlepping her to chemo. I do
my part but I also check in with her by phone. It’s natural to ask how
she’s feeling, but I can hear from her intake of her breath that she’s
tired of having people ask her that and tired of having to keep
repeating either the immediate news or safe platitudes. On the other
hand I don’t want her to think I don’t care, and I do want to know.
What’s the right etiquette to show my love and concern and also give
her some breathing room?
Your sensitivity and caring make you a very desirable friend. I suspect
everyone she knows is in the same position, wanting to help but not
wanting to be in the way. The reality is that if your friend is already in
chemo she’s probably been dealing with cancer for quite a while, at
least months. The initial shock of diagnosis, both tentative and
clarifying, plus whatever intermediate medical events have occurred,
and the enlisting of the support group, have all been major life events
and stressors. She’s probably been asked the How are you feeling?
question at least a gazillion times, all by people who care a lot and are
concerned. But there’s a narrowing of identity that goes with that
focus that she could very legitimately be tiring of, not to mention the
effects of the treatments themselves.
The simplest answer to your question is to ask her. Start with a candid
convo telling her exactly what you asked me. Say, I really care about
you but I want you to be here for you the way you want and need me
to. I always want to ask, but I’m sure you get tired of the same Q&A.
I’d like you to tell me what you most need, whether that’s a safety
zone to rant and scream, or someone to just come rub your shoulders.
Let her set the parameters for communication, and then abide by
Also, if she does not utilize a web for helping, there are sites like
www.helpinghands.com, or www.caringbridge.com, and probably
others, that allow communication out (e.g Ellen’s surgery went great
but please leave comments here rather than calling the house) and in
(We love you. Go gal!), and also help support teams organize everything
from meals to schlepping by having signups public and coordinated.
We will all face similar needs as the years progress, so sadly there’s lots
of chances to get this right.