Sadness, or even grief, is a part of the cancer roller coaster, even when the patient is still alive and perhaps doing well. Losing someone or something you love is always painful and sometimes even the thought of loss causes a deep sadness. Even if they are set to make a full recovery, they have lost that part of themselves that "won't ever die." And that causes a deep sadness.
Everyone deals with grief differently. We all have different coping styles and different personalities. Our life experiences differ, as does our understanding and relationship with God.
There are two things that are important for both you and your friend to understand.
1) It is normal for you to be sad. Your relationship has been dealt a heavy blow. You don't know for sure what the future holds. Perhaps you have been told that you won't have each other for long. Even if medically treatment is going well, there is still that lingering doubt at the back of your mind.
Will the treatment beat the cancer?
Will I ever recover?
Will it come back?
Feelings of sadness and grief are normal and need to be faced. Only then will healing start to take place.
2) The grief process takes time. It can’t be forced or hurried. Some people quickly come to terms with the situation and are ready to move on. Many find it takes months or even years. I spoke to a new friend recently who shared with me about her husband's final days--and even today the sadness wells up as she talks about it--10 years later.
You, and your friend, need to be patient with yourself and talk openly about the situation. Just make sure you keep the conversation upbeat as far as possible. And remember--you're on a roller coaster. It'll appear again, when you least expect it.
Dealing with sadness.
Don't try to ignore the emotion and think it will just go away. You need to deal with it, as does your friend. Sadness, like the other emotions on the cancer roller coaster, is normal. Crying isn't a sign of weakness. It's your body's normal reaction to the shock, fear and sense of loss of a cancer diagnosis. At the same time, there are other ways of showing sadness--your friend may not cry. That is not abnormal. That just means she has a different way of processing her grief.
Your friend needs support, and so do you. Talk to loved ones and friends, and where possible get into a support group. Sometimes people will tell you they want to help both the patient and you. Give them ideas on how they can help, even if it's only offering a shoulder for you to cry on.
Lean on God. If you, and your friend, already have a strong faith, find comfort through spiritual activities such as prayer, meditation and reading Christian books. If you don't have a faith to sustain you, please contact someone in leadership at an alive Christian church and set up an appointment to chat to them.
Watch out for depression. If your grief gets to a point that you feel it's overwhelming, or your friend seems to be sinking toward full depression, look for a counselor who can help you work through the emotions.
Tips for supporting your friend:
1. Encourage her to take care of herself physically and to deal with her emotions.
2. Help her to face her feelings and deal with them in tangible ways. She can talk to you or to a counselor, but she must also speak to God in prayer or through the pages of her journal. Finally she must talk to herself or even to the cancer . . . again through journaling. See more on this in the section on journaling.
3. See that she takes steps to get sufficient sleep and exercise, and that she is eating well.
4. Don't try to tell her how she should feel. No two people deal the same with grief. There is no "right time" to "snap out of it." It's okay for her to be upset, cry, get mad. See to it that you understand the emotional roller coaster she's on so that you recognise what she's going through.
5. Think ahead for difficult dates. Anniversaries of people they loved who died, or of the date of their diagnosis, can bring back emotional turmoil. Talk to them ahead and make plans for the day. Don't try to ignore the date. Arrange to do something that will honor the person or situation.
6. Do encourage her to join a support group. Go with her and you'll benefit too. Sharing with others going through the same or similar experiences can help to see the emotions are normal, and she will learn how others deal with them.
7. Assure her that she can phone you for support any time. There will be times it's easier to talk when you're not face-to-face.
Above all, remember that sadness is a normal loop on the cancer rollercoaster. Hang on tight, go along with the ride, and you will soon experience the next upward swing.