How to help a friend with cancer | Christopher Gorelik | TEDxOaksChristianSchool

now I've been diagnosed with aggressive

b-cell lymphoma three times over the

last eight years and one of them was

Stage four brain cancer so I can tell

you from firsthand experience that for

most cancers today it's just not as bad

to have as you may think I don't want to

be too cavalier about it because there

are still cancers out there for which

the outcomes are not great but

oncologist today will tell you that most

of their patients are now gonna make it

they're going to survive and that's

pretty good news because I gotta tell

you the treatments are still grueling

but it's a lot easier to go through them

when the doctors are telling you they

think you're going to be okay in the end

and I have been through some very

grueling treatments here's a picture of

me with my son Maxwell when I was going

through my brain cancer I'm the one on

your right funny thing about this

picture is that I hated taking pictures

when I was sick so the only reason I

took this one is because I thought I was

looking good that day now this cancer

was a battle but I was still able to

find a doctor who could say you know

there's been some advances in the last

couple of years and I think I got this I

think you're gonna be okay and I was he

was right to do it he gave me a lot of

chemo obviously a lot of that was

experimental I had a bone marrow

transplant and they put this into my

neck right here because I was able to

use my own stem cells so they pulled my

stem cells out and use those when it was

time for the bone marrow transplant and

I even had to have a hole drilled in my

skull right here so that they could put

a catheter into my brain and pour the

chemo directly into the middle of it

that one was a little crazy but it was

more crazy when a few days later the

doctors came in they put my scans up on

the on the board and they were showing

me where the memory centers of my brain

were growing at this really accelerated

rate and they just couldn't figure out

why but last little bits not true but

wouldn't it have been so cool when they

put the chemo in my brain

if it was turning me into a superhero

now that would have made having cancer

brain cancer completely worthwhile but

unfortunately nothing happened not being

a superhero was definitely the biggest

disappointment that I had the whole time

I had cancer now I show you these things

that I went through for a couple of

reasons one because well I happen to

like sympathy and I think this makes me

look very sympathetic you know that is

by the way one of the silver linings in

the cancer cloud you can get away with

things when you have cancer that you

could never get away with if you didn't

and if I'm in the supermarket and

there's a long line you know I've got

cancer people just can't get out of the

way fast enough to get me right to the

front of the line so you know it's like

a credit card a cancer card and

everybody takes it it works all over the

world you know so having cancer is not

all bad it has its benefits too but I

also want you to know that I have

experience with all of this when I tell

you that there are things that you can

do to help a friend go through one of

the most brutal parts about having

cancer something that the doctor can't

fix and that's the isolation the

detachment from everyone everything that

you know let me explain

when you get sick like that you begin

living this kind of parallel life

separate from your regular life and all

the people taking care of you the

doctors the nurses your family people

that your caregivers they're all helping

you in this parallel life but there's

nothing connecting you to your regular

life and that's why I'm here today you

all need to know that friends are the

bridge that connects you to this regular

life but unfortunately what happens is

that after about the first month or two

most cancer patients will tell you that

people were great for a while but then

they disappear and it's hard to figure

out why and in my case I realized it

could have been me look at me I'm


Oh No what what really happens but it

really happens is that your lives aren't

passing together anymore you're doing

different things obviously in people's

lives go on but it's also because people

get scared they get scared of the

illness and they also just don't know

what to do to help you but it actually

is a terrible thing when you feel like

you've been forgotten about because what

happens is is the more time you spend

away from everybody that's your friend

this parallel life that your receding

into grows and longer and longer

distance away from this real life the

regular life that you're used to and

then you get better and you're left to

try to connect the bridge all the way

back to your regular life all by

yourself and that is a long exhausting

process it takes months years and some

people that I've talked to say that they

really never got back and it doesn't

have to be like that because there are a

lot of things that you really can do

that are small that will make a very big

difference in someone's life when

they've got to wonder stick like this so

I'm gonna talk about some of those but

first I want to help you deal with how

to act around somebody when they first

learned that they've got cancer because

everyone handles that very different

emotionally you know you don't have to

act all dark and gloomy at least not in

my case I'd been feeling lousy for so

long that I was more relieved than

anything else that they had finally

found something so when they told me I

had cancer I was like well that's great

I'm not going crazy it is something so

but you know not everyone's gonna feel

that way so you can't go into the room

with them and say congratulations you

must be thrilled that you've got cancer

you know you can do what you want to do

is you go in there you just say hey how

are you feeling about your diagnosis

because the way that they act with that

question the way that they respond their

words their mannerisms that's gonna lead

you into directly how you should act

what you should say what you should be

doing next

now here's what most people did or said

to me when they wanted to help me when I

first got sick if I can do anything

please let me know well the first tip I

want to give you all is that this is not

helpful because all this does is give a

sick overwhelmed person one more thing

to do find something for you to do and

if you don't then all of a sudden

they're gone thinking well you know I

tried but they didn't want any help and

you multiply that times the dozens of

people that are also saying the same

thing to you and it becomes pretty clear

early on but there's no help coming so

instead let's just change a few words

around here let's figure out and say you

know I can do something I'm gonna figure

out how to help you I'll be back I'll

let you know what I can do what are some

of those things so you can make good on

that commitment well one thing is you

can just text them regularly that's

really easy and it can be impersonal I

know it sounds like it if you send just

one but if you send a bunch of them over

time once a week even just once a month

they do become meaningful all you got to

do is say hey I want you to know I'm

thinking about you that's it it can even

be the same message every time but keep

sending them even if they're not

replying to you especially if they're

not replying to you it will make a

difference it's such an easy thing to do

and at a minimum just do this because

when I was holed up in a room and a

message like that came across my phone

it made me feel less alone and more

connected even if it was just for a

little bit give them a handwritten note

not a hallmark get well card with a

signature on it really write them a note

a real letter and if you keep it

consider taking a bunch of stationery

when you see them and have them write

some notes out to people themselves

thank-you notes or just things that are

just to reach out to friends that will

keep them connected in a much different

way on a number of levels visit as much

as you possibly can I know this one

seems obvious but I got to tell you the

meaning of these these

have changed a lot in the last 10 or 15

years because just that long ago the

visit was to say goodbye to your friend

but today it's about keeping them

connected to the world that they're

gonna be joining you back in pretty soon

so the more you can visit the better off

now when you ask them don't say hey

when's a good time for me to come by

that's a little like if I can do any if

I can do anything let me know it's too

big a question just say I want to come

by Tuesday at 6 p.m. is that Alright

that's a question that they can answer

if you want to bring something it's not

can I bring you anything

same problem it's hey I'm bringing you a

pizza or in an out burger is there

anything you don't want on it that is a

question again easy to answer when

they're not up for a visit which is

possible and it happens often they're

just not feeling after seeing anybody

you can still help because you can just

say to them I'm gonna bring dinner to

your house I'm gonna leave it at your

front door at 6 o'clock so if you go out

there at 6:05 it's gonna be there and

you want to talk to anybody no pressure

at all that's a friend that's getting it

that's a friend that's thinking about

them that's help and that's connectivity

all right now when you visit this person

there's a good chance they'll be

sleeping don't leave because when you're

sick you don't really sleep the same way

you more like drift in and out every few

hours so instead grab a book sit down

next to them and wait for them to see if

they wake up I'll tell you that most the

time when you wake up over and over and

over again you're alone with the reality

or situation so to wake up and have a

friendly friend there right in front of

you makes a very big difference it's so

uplifting it happened to me twice only

in all these years and it was very

uplifting so wait as long as you can if

that's the case cancer is not contagious

but it can feel like it when you're sick

like that because nobody wants to touch

you they stay on the other side of the

room I'm telling you right now that if

someone's got cancer it's okay to

touch them you can't take your hand and

just put it on their arm for a moment or

two they don't get that a lot and that

contact is very important and it will

stay with them for a lot longer than

just your visit create an online game

night once a month say the third

Thursday of every month and this is an

opportunity if you organize it for them

for them to have something on the

calendar to look forward to every month

where they're gonna get to hang out with

all their friends a lot of them at least

and everybody can join in because all

they got to do is sign on or get on

FaceTime or Skype easy to do help them

get caught up one of the problems even

though you're lying around you don't

feel like doing your text messages

emails you don't feel like going through

your regular mail your social media so

if you can just help them when you're

sitting down with them get their phone

and reply to stuff for them engage them

get them caught up that's about as close

as they're gonna get to feeling like

they're back in their regular life if

you can do that really important create

a spotify playlist

another nice thing to do you know call

it cancer time or something and you put

it you know their music that they'll

like and their podcasts and some

audiobooks things that they'll want to

listen to and keep it current add things

to it from time to time so they'll feel

like they're staying up-to-date like

everyone else is finally it's okay to

tell them how you feel

we don't live thankfully in the day and

age anymore where a father shakes his

son's hand as he goes off to war we can

do better than that

and I'll tell you when I had a friend

that said hey I want you to know I love

you buddy it mattered to me because it

made me feel like I mattered and that

made a difference

look these are just a couple of ideas

here that I that I came up with but I'll

tell you something you know this person

vest and so if they like guacamole well

get some avocados and make him some but

it's gonna take some initiative and some

work on your part to be a friend when

someone really need

you like this everyone here if they

don't already is going to know somebody

soon that has cancer and they're going

to get better in all likelihood whatever

you do don't abandon them be that bridge

that keeps them connected to their

regular life be their friend thank you