Handling Supportive People

by JoAnna BarkerMay 17, 2019View more posts from JoAnna Barker

Having supportive people in your life is extremely important to your emotional well-being in any circumstance.

Learning how to handle supportive people is equally as important. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t realize that there are many different types of support styles. Some of these styles are energizing and others, while still well-intended, can be very draining. As my friends and family reacted to my diagnosis, I found myself reacting to their reactions.

Let me explain through a story:

It wasn’t that my Grandma didn’t love me, that wasn’t the case at all. She simply prefered to put her head in the sand and to keep my head under a hat. After my hair fell out, she refused to see me without something covering my bald glory. Two months into treatment, after a sleepless night of tingly chemo arms and binge watching Lord of the Rings, I pulled on my beanie, went downstairs and sat at the kitchen table with my Gram.

“Ice these sugar cookies” she said, pushing me a tube full of sugary, bright red goodness.

The snow was coming down harder than it had all season and this particular day was our annual cookie baking day. Cancer had taken a lot of things, but with all the steroids I was pumped with, a tradition involving eating was not one of them.

I don’t know how much experience you have with baking but often times the oven gets so hot it makes the room into a personal sauna.This is great in a Missouri winter, unless you’re on your second round of chemo. Unlike my much older cancer patient friends, (I had made a lot of them at the infusion center) I was hot all the time. My bald head was sweating under the wool beanie and I felt nauseous every time I opened the oven.

After several minutes in Hell’s kitchen, my Grandma finally noticed that I was as pale as the snow falling from the sky.

After two months of being afraid to ask I finally said it; “Gram, please let me take off this beanie.”

There’s a certain look that people get when they come to grips with reality. It’s a cross between learning that Santa Claus isn’t real and that their favorite food is making them fat. You know the look. My Gram had this look written all over her face.

“Fine,” she said, straightening her back like a queen and carrying on with her cookie dough formations. I love that about my Gram. She always carries on. Relieved, I looked down, breathed in and peeled off the beanie.

My Gram is a strong woman but some people may see her strength as harsh or rude. She is neither of these things. At this point in time, what I saw was a hurt woman who loved her granddaughter and hated cancer. People love differently, they cope differently, and most of all, they support differently.

When you first get diagnosed with cancer you believe that everyone will be supportive in the same way. You go in knowing you’ll get cards, blankets, and lots of food, and you do get those things. It doesn’t take long for giving people to do exactly that, give. But there is a whole other group of people, the ones that no one talks about, that show support differently. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, they just don’t love the same way as everyone else.

In my book I categorized all of these people and I even decided to make a quiz to let you know what kind of supportive person you are. Figuring out the types was one thing, handling them was another. I don’t mean this in a negative way, but there are some types that will lift you up, some that might wear you down, and others that might leave you feeling confused, like my Gram (who falls under the Ostrich category).

Partner Resource: Check out JoAnna’s book: So This is Cancer?

Everyone needs support, especially emotional support. Please don’t feel guilty if you get annoyed at your overbearing mom drowning you in Google facts. Don’t feel bad for getting frustrated with your drill sergeant friend who picks you up at 10 pm because they demand normalcy! Here’s the bottom line, they love you, they hate cancer.

I needed every type of person in order to get through cancer. I needed the facts, I needed the normalcy, I needed someone to sit with me in silence, someone to shower me in blankets, and someone to tell me when I was being dramatic. Some of these types I didn’t fully understand until after I was finished with treatment and coming out of the chemo fog. Everyone will react differently, but we get to choose how we respond to them.

Reality is, this doesn’t only apply to cancer. Anytime you need support, the people around you will be supportive in their own way. Even after treatment, most of their styles won’t change but some of them will depending on the circumstance. Holding a grudge against someone for the way they treated you or something they said or did during your time of need isn’t wise. People are trying their best to navigate their surroundings and cope with their own thoughts and emotions towards what’s happening to you. Punishing them for their support style is never the answer. I mean is there really a “right” way to deal with some of the stuff this world throws at us? Granted there are plenty of wrong ways but there isn’t really a formula for our supportive people to you know, be supportive.

With that being said, I understand there are exceptions to the rule. There are people who have grown up to be frustrating humans and they just can’t seem to “human” well. Then there are people like my Gram who simply cope in a way that buries their head in the sand and continues on business as usual. If she didn’t see my bald head then I didn’t have cancer, and we can continue icing cookies the way we always have.

So what kind of supportive people do you have around you now and how will you respond to them? Your responses are your legacy. Remember you can’t control others, but you can control you. Accept support and give support. Just because you’re the person in need doesn’t mean you are no longer capable of meeting the needs of others. Even if their need is directly related to you.

Check out JoAnna’s book: So This is Cancer?