A cancer survivor channels her ordeal into reflections on the nature of empathy and friendships.
Ms. magazine founding editor Pogrebin (Three Daughters, 2002, etc.) offers sound counsel to those comforting ailing friends. In 2009, a routine mammogram revealed a suspicious mass that not only changed the author’s relationship to her body, but also the interactions with her friends, some of whom were hesitant to visit. Pogrebin’s text serves her well as both an informative guide and an autobiographical chronicle. Evenly distributed throughout are personal interludes from her battle with breast cancer combined with helpful sections guiding those who are conflicted “when your role in the relationship is no longer easy or obvious.” For many, she writes, worry for a friend’s sudden or prolonged illness can be an intimidating, touchy subject, and communicating genuine concern could understandably be met with either graciousness or an irritable “Thank you for caring. Now leave me alone.” The author’s sharp advice illuminates many of the more common gray areas governing what to say to an ailing friend, appropriate visitation frequencies and durations, and proper gifting. She also provides tips for good behavior when a friend’s parent or child is gravely ill. Much of this valuable “illness etiquette” comes from personal experience (Pogrebin’s mother died of cancer) and from survival stories told to her by fellow patients. Illness, she writes, will often prove a friendship’s mettle, and those who get it right will temper the unavoidable shame and embarrassment that often accompany serious health issues.
A useful refresher course on navigating the complicated territory of compassionate companionship.