DAME’s Friendkeeper on what to do after a friend’s diagnosis and how to curb a relentless chatterbox.
A friend of mine just told me she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She has a good prognosis, but she has a long road of treatment ahead of her. I was totally at a loss for words when she told me, and did that horrible thing of bursting into tears. Which made me feel like an ass. I didn’t want her to think I thought she was going to die. I was just, well, shocked and worried. And I just don’t know what to say, or how to even take back my reaction. I am terrible at this sort of thing. She needs her friends to be by her side—her parents have both passed away and she’s single. We all need to be strong for her. And the other problem is, I don’t know, once you get past the conversation of what do you need? What can I do? What do you say to a person going through such a thing? I mean, I assume it’s all they can think about. You said a few columns back that you had a friend with cancer, so maybe you have advice about how to not only help a friend going through something like this, but also how to talk to a friend, what not to say? I don’t want to be a dark cloud or say or do the wrong thing. I feel like I already started off on the wrong foot.
I Know It’s Not All About Me
Dear I Know,
I love the idea of taking back a reaction—can you imagine if we had the power for do-overs in life? I would start with the Cobb salad I just ate. Unfortunately, you can’t. And although your reaction to your friend may not have been what you wish it had been, it happened. And it was genuine. So move beyond it. I always feel like rather than saying, “What can I do?” it helps to say, “I will take you to your appointment on Tuesday.” If you know her friends, maybe you can co-ordinate with them. Come up with a schedule, and you will see as time goes what she needs help with. In the meantime, my wonderful friend Lisa Adams has a great blog post about the stupid things people say to people with cancer that I think is a great read. And give yourself a break. I’m sure you haven’t had a zillion friends tell you they have cancer.
The other night, I had dinner with a friend who I swear to God talked from the second she sat on my couch until the second I nudged her out the door. I don’t even think she took a breath. I mean, she’s funny as hell, but while I do remember her asking, “What’s new?” and “How are you?” I don’t think I got to answer the question because she masterfully moved the conversation back to her. She’s totally entertaining and interesting, but when you get together with her, you’re in it for the long haul, whether it’s one on one or a group outing. How do you say something about it to someone who doesn’t let you get a word in edgewise? Or do you not even bother and just sit back and enjoy the free entertainment?
But … Never Mind
Unless the person I’m eating with is named Jerry Seinfeld, I’m really not interested in hearing a monologue. But that’s just me. If you are enjoying it and don’t mind, more power to you. If you’d like there to be a little more give and take, though, you’re going to have to be more assertive. I think as friends we count on the people we converse with to realize when they’ve been yapping endlessly and the only sound they hear is their own voice. That’s when it’s natural to say, “Oh and tell me about your week. Did you get your hair cut? Did it turn out the guy you dated two weeks ago was gay?” Friends pay attention to details about each other and follow up. And sure there are times when one friend commands most of the time, it just happens. But not all the time. I think the best thing to do is when she takes a breath say, “Well, before the evening is over I really want to tell you about my alien abduction.” And of course, you aren’t competing for best story or greatest drama. The things we all need to talk about may not be that entertaining but we need to talk. If she continues to plow over you, you may want to re-think the relationship.
Got a platonic problem of your own that could use the Friendkeeper’s advice? Fire away: [email protected]. No situation is too uncomfortable or too small and all details are kept confidential.
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