In my columns, I often suggest practical ways to help people with cancer. Giving support to nice people is relatively easy. You want to bring them soup and give them a hug.

But contrary to what you see in the movies, not everyone with cancer is angelic. Some of us are cranky. Others are downright unpleasant.

Whether one likes them or not, unpleasant people need support, too.

In my experience, unpleasant people with cancer were unpleasant people before they had cancer. And nothing about cancer is going to make them any happier.

The first unpleasant person who comes to your mind might be a member of your family. Perhaps it’s a parent or a sibling. Or it could be a neighbor, member of your faith community, or coworker.

If this unpleasant person gets cancer, you may feel some obligation to help. This sense of obligation might be heightened if the person is socially isolated which, not surprisingly, tends to happen to unpleasant people.

So, what to do?

My suggestion is to reach out to them by calling, visiting, and offering to take them to appointments. But don’t expect them to smile, be gracious, or appreciate your assistance.

We’re taught by Hollywood that cranky people have hearts of gold and twinkles in their eyes. I’ve known several people like that, but I’ve also known people who seem to have hearts of stone and the word twinkle will never, ever be used to describe them.

Henri Nouwen provided a perfect description of support and caring:

When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

Providing that kind of support even to our loved ones is difficult. Providing that kind of support to someone who’s unpleasant is next to impossible.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t help in one way or another, even if it’s a small gesture and we have to force a smile.

A friend of mine, referring to her sister, put it to me this way, “I don’t like her, but I’m here for her.”

There’s a lot of wisdom and love in that statement. Sometimes we help simply because it’s the right thing to do.

 


Excerpted with permission from When Your Life is Touched By Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care by Bob Riter, copyright (c) 2014, Hunter House Inc., Publishers.

from the Ithaca Journal, January 16, 2010

 

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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