A Pacifist’s Guide to being a good friend to someone who has cancer
1. Try not to say ‘What can I do?’ or ‘How can I help?’ Those are too openended and it’s too easy to reply ‘Don’t worry, I’m fine.’ What you can say is: ‘I’m coming over and I’m going to make dinner and I’m going to clean your kitchen, is that OK?’
2. Understand that the person who is ill is going to react in unexpected ways. Be supportive and understand, please, that sometimes, your support might be thrown in your face. Don’t be put off by different and varying reactions. Know that the person sometimes feels irrational and totally mad.
3. Cards with lots of writing and stories and things relating to you are lovely to receive and mean a lot. Cards with just a few words and a generic greeting are weird.
4. Post-surgery food: ask the person what they want to eat before you come. When I’m well I can eat all the chocolate in the world but after surgery all I wanted was melon. So just ask.
5. I personally like to go to all my appointments alone, it’s just easier for me, but it’s always nice to have the offer of a companion and to feel like you have that option if you want it. But you should never be forced to take people along. Friends keeping track of appointments means a lot to the person who is ill and a text in the morning to say good luck, or a phone call later on to see how it went, is always appreciated.
6. People on chemo often feel very sick. When visiting please don’t douse yourself in perfume. Or bring smelly food or candles, unless on request. It could be the most delicious fragrance in the world to you but strong smells of nearly any kind turned my stomach.
7. Please just stay present and there. Don’t disappear. Don’t be scared of saying the wrong thing. It’s so much better to be a friend and be accidentally insensitive than just to not be there at all.
Lara Veitch performs in A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer. She has Li Fraumeni Syndrome, a rare inherited genetic predisposition towards cancer, and is a trustee of The George Pantziarka TP53 Trust (tp53.co.uk)
PHOTOGRAPHY / Helen Murray