News / Health

Book Details How to React When Friends Fall Ill

Being seriously ill is usually a frightening experience, but it can be even more challenging when friends and family are unsure of how to support a loved one. (File Photo)
Being seriously ill is usually a frightening experience, but it can be even more challenging when friends and family are unsure of how to support a loved one. (File Photo)
Adam Phillips
A few years ago, after Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. magazine, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was struck by how difficult it was for some of her friends to talk about her illness in frank and supportive ways.

She began asking other cancer patients how their friendships had changed since their diagnoses, and a timely book idea was born. She titled it “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.”

“It is really about how to relate to somebody who is in extremis, who is suffering, who makes you feel awkward because you have to face your own vulnerability and your own mortality and people are not good at it naturally," Pogrebin said. "It does not come naturally so they really pause, they blunder, they cannot find the right words.”
x

Pogrebin found that fear is at the bottom of many communications problems. Some people feel so uncomfortable in the presence of a sick person they do not want to see him or her at all.  

Rhonda Waithe says that is how her brother felt when her son Jody was born with a grave disease and could not leave the hospital for nearly a year.  

“He was like ‘I do not know how to act. I would not know how to be around these people,’" Waithe said. "And I would say to him ‘Just be yourself.'  Because this is what they want, for you to just be you.”

Pogrebin also that found some people try a little too hard to be “nice.”     

“And that there is really a whole misperception of what it is to be nice to a sick person," she said. "Sometimes the nicest thing you can do is simply treat them normally. The luxury of the normal. It is the miracle of the ordinary that I sought. I did not want to feel like ‘Cancer Girl.’”  

Pogrebin says be mindful of what might actually help the loved one feel better, not what you think the “proper” thing to say or do is.        

“It is very tempting to feel good about yourself when you are in a tough situation like that. ‘I called when I heard. I did the right thing.’ ‘I sent a bouquet of flowers. I did the right thing.’ I said, ‘you will get past this’ or ‘I am sure it is going to be OK.’  All those bromides we've heard people say for a million years," she said. "But you do not know on the other end if that is what is really needed, and if that is what is really wanted.”    

Often, what is needed is practical hands-on help. That's what Nicole Brown craved when her late father became bedridden.
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)
x
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of
Cancer survivor and veteran journalist Letty Cottin Pogrebin is the author of "How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who's Sick." (Photo by Mike Lovett)
   
“We needed people to actually come and help us, be there for us," Brown said. "Bring some food. Help give him a bath.”   

Pogrebin adds that simple courtesy often is the best policy.
 
“I know somebody told me that her friend said 'It is too cold in here' and went rummaging in her drawers for a sweater for her. Which is a very nice impulse," she said. "But she did not want her friends in her drawers. So sometimes an act of kindness can be an act of invasion.”  

Pogrebin says to let the loved one take the lead.
 
“If you are the friend, ask the sick person ‘What do you really want us to do during this period? Do you want me to offer or just come and take the initiative?'" she said. "'I will take the advice you give me right now and I will run with it for the rest of the period of time that we are in this together.’ It is the simple Golden Rule, when you get down to it.”

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs