Lindsey shares her friend’s story of fighting pancreatic cancer, and offers her own advice and reflections on being there for a loved one through cancer.
Buy the seeds! This was just one of the pieces of advice given by my close friend Carl who lived with pancreatic cancer for almost five years.
Following his initial diagnosis, Carl was given a less than 5% chance of surviving six months – yet he soon learned to ignore statistics and do things his own way. He started to write a blog about living with cancer to let people know that they weren’t on their own. His aim was to show people not to just survive with cancer but live, and he truly achieved that!
As a friend of someone who’s been diagnosed with any form of cancer you initially want to step up and help. My advice is to ignore everything that you assume to be right and let the person decide what’s best for them.
It’s very easy for cancer to dominate every conversation, but there’s still so much else to enjoy and talk about. When Carl told me of his illness I just asked “how do you want us to handle it?”, and this is an approach which I have found best with several other friends with cancer.
They always wanted me to just carry on as normal. Between hospital appointments, blood tests, chemo sessions etc., cancer has more than enough airtime than it deserves and it’s important to appreciate that your friend may just need time away from it. Time to chat nonsense, do lunch, laugh, and time to forget all the bad stuff.
They may also need time to complain, to be irrational or angry, to cry, and it’s very likely that at times they’ll just want to be left alone. The important thing is to let them decide.
Here are some practical tips my friends with cancer have shared:
- Do what feels right for you, rather than what you feel others expect of you. You may very well rub people up the wrong way but that’s okay. Those that matter will understand – those that don’t matter are simply that so who cares!
- Appoint a communications manager! Well, maybe not something so officially titled but managing an abundance of well wishes, questions and demands can be exhausting for the person and their family. Consider nominating someone from your close circle to relay and manage messages and updates so that you don’t have to constantly feel that you have to update a large number of people.
- The third sounds corny, but it’s powerful: live and not measure life in terms of time but by how full it is. Each friend who has cancer has seen their life change both during and after.
Carl went from not believing in himself to striving for goals which he previously thought unachievable. He saw places that he would never have seen, he did things he would never have dared do and his ‘to do’ list became a real life action rather than a sheet of paper in a book. He developed a successful business, got married, won awards and made several TV appearances. In his final days he told me he would never have done or achieved half the things he had if it hadn’t been for cancer, and for that he wanted to thank it. He meant it and I understood why.
So, back to buying the seeds…
One of Carl’s blog entries was about when he went to Ikea, picked up some seeds to plant and then discarded them at the till as the probability of being around long enough to see them flower was low. His advice to anyone who had just being diagnosed was to buy the seeds – had Carl done so he would have seen them flower several times over.
This is advice we should all consider, whether we live with cancer or not. So I’ll end this story by urging you to start that hobby, make that call, book that holiday or do whatever else it is you’ve wanted to do but not doing for whatever reason.
If you can’t think of anything then maybe just buy the seeds…
Carl was in a hospice for just over two weeks before he left us. Having seen and felt the difference hospice care makes to people and their loved ones, I cannot praise them enough. I'd come away from visiting feeling calm and noticing things that I wouldn't normally – blue sky, flowers, bees. It sounds strange but life seemed more beautiful there despite what you would expect.
Hospices receive less than 40% funding from the government so every penny really does help them ensure they can work their magic and truly care for people when they need it the most. Last year I supported St Gemmas in Leeds, as at the time we didn’t know where Carl would end up.
For further information and advice visit Bupa's health information page on pancreatic cancer.