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.”

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)
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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs