Dear Friend, My Mum Has Terminal Cancer

This post has been a long time coming. It has involved texts and Facebook messages from friends about things they’ve learned over Mum’s illness, things they wish they knew at the start and things they wish they knew now. It has involved thinking right back to the beginning and trying to remember how far we’ve come. I have a number of friends who haven’t been able to deal with this situation… and I’ve lost them. But that’s a post for another day. For now, this one is finally here.

Dear Friend,

I’m sorry to have to tell you this but mum has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’m sorry to tell you in such a blunt way, but there really is no other way to say it, and as I’ve had to tell so many people, I’ve got used to just saying it, now.

Please don’t cry to me. I know it’s rubbish, I know it hurts and I know it’s scary, but I can’t cope with your grief about my situation on top of my own. Please find someone who you can speak to about this; a family member, a friend. I don’t mind who, but please don’t fall apart on me, and please don’t keep it all to yourself.

First and foremost, I need you to remember that you cannot take my pain away. You can’t erase my grief. You can’t cure my mum. No amount of beetroot juice or yoga is going to do that. It’s in our lives and it’s never going away. Maybe in a few weeks, or perhaps a few years, cancer will kill my mum. This is never going to get better – in fact it’s only going to get worse. You can’t fix my mum, and you certainly can’t stop me hurting. But you can definitely be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, or simply someone who makes me laugh and brings some happiness to my day.

Please don’t stop talking to me about normal things. I want to know about your significant other and why they’ve annoyed you. I want to know about your sister and how she did in her most recent exams. I want to know how last night’s party was. I want to know the good, the bad and the ugly; to chat like we’ve always done. I need this normality in my life! Don’t think that mum dying makes your problems ‘trivial’ or ‘stupid’, because they’re not. They matter to you, so they’re important, and I always want to know the important things in my friend’s lives.

Don’t feel that every single conversation you have with me has to include mum. That’s going to get very boring very quickly. I have a life outside of mum’s cancer. I volunteer, study, work, go out with my friends and even knit monkeys from time to time. Sometimes I just need a break from thinking about all that stuff. Sometimes I just want to be the normal, 21-year-old me. So unless mum’s been especially ill lately and you’re enquiring as to whether she’s feeling better, or there’s something specific you’d like to talk about, just wait for me to bring it up. If you really want to discuss it then feel free to ask me stuff, but ask me how I am before you ask me how mum is. The order of those two questions can make a big difference to how the conversation appears to me.

I’m sorry if I don’t always reply to your texts nowadays. My life gets busy. Mum has to go into hospital sometimes and there’s no signal there, then I often come home, help with tea and go straight to bed because being with a terminally ill parent is exhausting. Even when I’m at uni, I’m often catching up on work I’ve missed or trying to do all of my work during the week so I can go home on a weekend, and I just forget to check my phone. Sometimes I might read your message, but my head is so full of everything that I forget to reply. Please be patient with me.

Don’t stop texting, though. I love receiving messages and knowing that people care. Don’t feel you need to text me every second of every day – that would be weird and annoying. Just contact me as much as you always have done.

If I seem to be struggling, and you become worried, talk to me about it.
Ask me who I’m speaking to and what support I’m getting. You could walk with me to the GP when I need to go and sit with me in the waiting room if you wanted. See if you can find a group or an organisation who might be able to offer me some advice, or help someone in my situation. Remember, there is no ‘right’ way to support me. There is no ‘right’ thing to say or do. I haven’t changed as a person. I’m still me! I just have a really crappy situation going on in the background.

Please don’t disappear from my life. I know this is hard. I know you don’t know what to say or how to act, but I’d much rather have you in my life saying stupid stuff and mumbling, than not in my life at all. There is no ‘right’ thing to say or do. That’s what makes this so difficult. So just be you, stay in contact, and don’t run and hide, because I’ll miss you.

Drop me a message if you’re ever worried or upset. Please ask me if you’re not sure whether something is appropriate. Please tell me if I’m upsetting you in any way or if I’ve changed and it’s worrying you. Just communicate.

Thank you,
Your friend.



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