Advice to a friend whose mom has cancer

I spoke with a dear friend of mine today.  Her mother has cancer and has an 8-hour surgery scheduled for later this week.  My friend confessed she’d spent most of the weekend taking out her fear and frustration on her husband.

“I feel terrible,” she said.  “I was terrible to him.”

She and I made a pact and I asked her if I could write about it and she said yes.

My friend, an only child, traveled to a different city to go to doctor appointments with her mother. Her mother, who has always been full of pointed comments, seems to have gotten worse i.e. “Only mistake I ever made in life was having you.”

This falls under the “ouch” column of mother comments.  Still, my friend stopped everything in her own life and went to be with her mother.

“There’s no one else,” my friend said. “Advice? I need advice.”

And I so I gave her advice which I love doing, because it’s much easier to give advice than to live by it.  I told my friend, “I paid money for this advice, real money.  Years ago, my therapist gave it to me and it has been enormously helpful.”

I’m certain my counselor didn’t think it up, but the advice was gold.  She and I called it taking A Half A Second.  The way it works is this: when you’re about to do something, or say something that doesn’t serve your long term goals, PAUSE FOR HALF A SECOND and do anything but that thing… be quiet, breathe, count your toes.  HALF A SECOND can change everything. The goal is to take HALF A SECOND to center, to reconnect with your higher self, to not take the low road, to remember to be kind, to remember that the pain of the moment will pass…. Anything.  The trick is to remember TO PAUSE.

My friend and I made a pact that she would try to implement the HALF A SECOND PAUSE when her mother was being tough and when she was ready to snap at her husband.

The second piece of advice I offered was “GO THRIFT STORE SHOPPING.” When my mom was in the hospital, I found great comfort at a store in Phoenix called Last Chance.  This is an Outlet for Nordstrom’s– the place that houses returns and goods that are torn and tattered.  It’s no wonder I felt at home there.

As I sorted through fabric with holes, I loved finding a cashmere sweater that was good as new, or a silk scarf from Italy for under $10.  But more than the treasures I found, I loved listening in on other people’s conversations.  It gave me a sense of a world that was happening outside of the hospital, outside of waiting for test results.  It let me know that the moving sidewalk of life was moving and that I would not always be on the other side of a six inch plexiglass wall watching other people buy back to school shoes and Halloween costumes without feeling like my world was about to end.

I told my friend, “Everything changes. I know it sounds crazy, but in two weeks, after your mom has a major surgery and chemo, you might cry for joy to hear your mother have the strength and spitfire to be able to say something nasty to you.”

My friend laughed.  “I doubt it,” she said having just spent a weekend licking old wounds.

“Listen,” I continued, “It’s like you’re a lifeguard and you jumped in to help save your mom and she started kicking and biting you and you’re saying, “Stop it, I’m here to help.” And she just kept kicking and biting.”

“That’s exactly it,” my friend said.

“It sounds like your mom is afraid,” I said.  “She’s like a little kid who’s mean to their mom and nice to everyone else because they can be. It’s not ok that she’s mean to you, but aim for compassion anyways.  And if you can’t find compassion, try, if you can, to enjoy how terrible she is right now.  It’s still better than death.”

“On most days,” my friend said, and she and I laughed again.

“I know it’s a crazy idea,” I said, “But try to go up to the ceiling in your mind and look down on you and your mom and admire that you are who you are in some ways because of her.  Admire your resilience and your kindness even when she’s awful.  Admire your humor.  Admire your ability to land on your feet or to get back up when you don’t“

My friend took a deep breath and sighed.

“And remember to be extra kind to your husband,” I said before we hung up.  “We need their hugs.  There is nothing like a hug from a husband.”

Later I got an email from my friend that she’d found a designer dress for $10 at a local thrift store.  Small miracles help.  It’s always worth being on the look out for little things that make a day a bit better.



What is love? Listening. Thoughts on Letting Go and Bereavement
What is love? Listening.
Thoughts on Letting Go and Bereavement

The author

About Kathleen Buckstaff: Kathleen Buckstaff is an award-winning author, columnist, performance artist, cartoonist and photographer. She currently writes for The Huffington Post and wrote regularly for the Los Angeles Times and The Arizona Republic. Kathleen performed her one-woman play to sold-out theatres in CA, AZ and NYC and expanded the play into a book called The Tiffany Box, a memoir which was honored in 2013 as a USA BEST BOOK AWARDS finalist. Kathleen’s book Mother Advice To Take With You To College: Humor, Inspiration and Wisdom To Go was released in March of 2014. Kathleen’s abstract photographs of lilies were exhibited for the first time in April of 2014. Kathleen has a BA in Creative Writing from Stanford and a MA in Journalism from Stanford. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, their three children and their dog Lily.