How to properly love your friend who’s going through illness in the family

Today I had the privilege of chatting with a longtime friend by the name of Kathy Yachouh (far left of the picture.)

If you’ve been in or around the Markham community (or Middle Eastern GTA communities even) you probably know this woman and her family. You know they’re a pillar of light and hope and love and faith and all that is good in this world. They’re perfectly imperfect and unashamed.

They’re also the kind of people who understand that in this world, there is no avoiding pain or suffering. As much as we want to live in a little bubble where all is well and taken care of, it can be a hard pill to swallow when we realize it’s simply not the case. And the day you get hit with that reality is probably the day you’ll have an existential crisis (totally not speaking from experience.)

Not a problem though, because I’ve partnered with my girl Kathy to tell you that one thing we all have in common (thank God) is that we can partner in overcoming pain and we can all learn a thing or two about what really matters in life when we talk about our suffering.

I want to thank her for her vulnerability and her will to share her story, having faith that it’ll leave an impact.

Kathy’s a strong woman of 2 sisters and 2 amazing parents. One of her amazing parents, unfortunately, has been going through terminal brain cancer for 3 years now. We hope that through this post we can reveal how to better love our friends that are going through illness in their families. How to love them, care for them, what to say and definitely what not to say.

Here’s their story, from Kathy’s perspective:

1. Hey Kathy, what’s your life like? Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Kathy: I’m going to turn 21 in about a month. My life right now is definitely a lot more unplanned than I would like it to be. At the moment I’m working full-time in a job that I like. I run a side business in a field that I enjoy. However, my life is not where I would absolutely choose to be. Ideally I would like to have more control over my decisions and my future but God had other plans for me and His plan is better than mine so we’re going with the flow.

2. If we were to go back to 5 years ago, what did you think your life would look like now?

Kathy: I thought my life would be a lot different than it is. I thought I would be either in college still or maybe transferred over to university. I thought I would be working in a different field. That I’d have a more clear idea of what field I wanted to work in. I don’t actually know how to answer this question, to be honest. I don’t know what I thought my life would be like because I’ve never been the type to sit down and plan my life but I definitely didn’t imagine my life would be like this. And, not that I’m complaining about what my life is like but any person who is going through what I’m going through definitely could map out their life differently if they had the choice.

3. When did you know your life was about to change? And, how did you deal with that?

Kathy: It was November 3rd, 2016. I was at school for an after-school activity. It was my first semester of college and I thought I was going to continue in the program that I was in. At the time I was studying to be a paralegal at Seneca.

It was the day before one of my closest friend’s birthdays so I was at school and I had gotten two missed calls from my aunt, who never calls me. So, I was a little confused but I didn’t think too much of it. It was late at night, maybe almost 10pm and I get a call from my friend Sandy, who also doesn’t call me too often.

I said “What’s up? What’s going on?”
She just sounded concerned. She said, “Where are you?”
I said “I’m at school, why?
She said, “You’re at school this late?”
I said “I had a club thing going on, why what’s up?”
She said, “Nothing, it’s just late, I worry – I just think you should go home.” Like, “You should go home.”

So obviously she had already known what was going on because the day that my dad had his seizures we called her dad to coach us through how to deal with that and tell us what to do. But I didn’t know about any of this because nobody called me so based on how concerned she sounded I decided to take an Uber home instead of bus. By the time I got home I walked in my house and my cousin Nogoed was sitting on the couch and she looked mortified. My mom looked like she hadn’t slept in years. And Rosie just looked shocked. The first thing I noticed was that my dad wasn’t on the couch. Usually around this time he would take a shower, but not this late. So I walked in and I was like “What’s going on, and where’s Baba?”

My mom got emotional and Rosie said, “Okay, don’t freak out but Baba had four full-body seizures today. Currently he’s in the ICU.”

And I just fell to the floor and I couldn’t believe what I had heard. She said, “You need to calm down, everything is going to be okay.” I immediately told her, “You don’t know that and why didn’t anybody call me!?”

She said, “Well you were at school we didn’t want to scare you.”
I said, “That’s not the answer.”

So all of my family were at the hospital in the emergency room and I was the only one who wasn’t there. And, I’m his daughter. So that really bothered me. And, I had gone to my room and called Sandy and I said, “You knew and you didn’t tell me.”

She said, “They begged me not to.”

And it was from that moment on that I knew my life would be totally different. And I was right.

4. What’s one thing you would want people to know about you based on everything you’ve been through?

Kathy: I feel like people who don’t know what I’m going through have a certain idea of me, because I like to be a positive person, I like to be an uplifting force in the world if I can. It’s funny because when people are getting to know me and they learn about what I’m going through the first thing they say every single time without fail is, “I would have never guessed.” And, it’s because I try my absolute hardest to not show how I really feel about everything, all the time.

What I want people to understand is that I’m dealing with it a lot better than what it might seem, but sometimes I’m also not dealing with it well at all. Some days I’m really okay. And, it’s because I have God in my life, I have really great friends by my side, I have amazing family, I have a great job, but there are some days where all of that just doesn’t matter and all I can think about is all of the hardships I’m dealing with and some days it’s just like a broken record playing on repeat.

It’s like a siren that just won’t shut off. It’s that constant reminder of this is what’s going on and this is what you’re dealing with. And sometimes you just have to shut it down and smile and pretend like you’re so happy-go-lucky, but you might just want to curl up into a ball and play white noise in the background and cry.

Sometimes you want to physically feel what you feel inside, which is numb.

Something I want people to know is that all I want is consistency. I just want a mundane life. I want to wake up and go to the same job everyday and come home to the same family and eat the same food, go to bed at the same time.

But my life is not like that. My life is a whirlwind rollercoaster that is never-ending and it takes unexpected turns and drops and flips that literally is worse than unexpected.

So all I could ever ask for is just the mundane things. When people complain that their life is boring, I tell them you know, that exciting life you might want it might not be the type of exciting that you’re expecting so maybe be grateful for the consistency and the stillness in your life, cause sometimes it just may be the best.

5. What is something you wish you didn’t have to hear from other people during this time?

Kathy: I think my biggest pet peeve during such a time is whenever I’m venting about how I feel. If I’m taking the time and effort and vulnerability to share with you how I feel, do not make my feelings feel less. And, a lot of people don’t know how they’re doing that, which is okay, but if I’m correcting you, take the correction. A big example would be if I’m talking about a prognosis and you have the gall to look me in the eye and say, “Well this person had this type of cancer, and they lived 10-15 years, so don’t worry, have faith!”

I need you to just shut up.

Because, that person, that was their path. What if this is not my path? What if this is not my dad’s path? So, you in that moment are trying to give me hope and that is appreciated but what you’re doing is not giving me hope. You’re reminding me that my situation sucks even more than other people’s. That other people who were in my situation got it better. They got more time. And that I might be suffering more. And second, it makes me feel like what I’m going through is not that bad or that you don’t actually care about what I’m saying. You know?

I’d rather hear, “I hope everything is going to be fine.”

Because if you want to give me hope, that’s how you’ll give me hope. Give me hope in the sense that you hope that I’m doing okay. “If you need anything, let me know.” “If you ever need a break, let me know.” “If you ever want to cry, let me know.” “If you ever just want to sit in silence because you want someone’s company, let me know.”

And there are days that I’ll be great because maybe I’m having a good day. Some days I’m having really bad days and all you can do is just be present. No one is asking for advice. No one is asking for insight, especially not from someone who might not have gone through what I’m going through.

If you’re not a doctor, you don’t give medical advice. If you’re not a lawyer, you don’t give legal advice. So if you’re not a supporter of somebody who’s suffering through cancer, don’t give cancer advice because you don’t know what they’re dealing with. All you can do is be a helping hand, be a shoulder to cry on, be a friend. That’s all.

I’m just asking for presence. Presence, eye contact, focus, and respect. That’s all somebody going through my situation could ask for.

6. Who’s been your support through all of this?

Kathy: Obviously my family, for one.

My sister, Rosie has literally been the rock of the family. She has handled more than what was ever expected of her. First of all, nothing was expected of her. And to see the way she stepped up for my parents is so damn inspirational. Like I can only hope to be that kind of rock for my own family one day (my future husband, kids, etc…)

And Peter, my brother-in-law… let’s talk about the fact that this man, when all of this started, was just a boyfriend. He was just a boyfriend to a girl that he loved, and he had just proposed to her and then we got this terrible news. And what did he do? As a person who isn’t even their son-in-law yet? He stepped up like crazy. He accepted an earlier wedding than what he wanted for the sake of his father-in-law. He moved in with his in-laws which most newly-weds wouldn’t want. They wanna be on their own, you know? They’re newly weds, they wanna experience life and enjoy married life. And he voluntarily and selflessly moved in with his in-laws and took care of things that my dad couldn’t do anymore.

He takes out the garbage. He mows the lawn. He takes care of the cars. He handles bills. He stepped up more than anybody could have ever imagined. He’s probably one of the biggest blessings in not only my parents life, but in my life too.

My mom. Like talk about what a strong human being. This woman is slowly watching her husband get worse and it’s hard to watch for anybody but imagine that’s your partner in life. My mom got married at 21-22 years old, she came to Canada without any of her family. Her siblings are all back home. Her parents are back home. Her friends.

She came her by herself. She has spent over 25 years at my dad’s side. And they weren’t one of those marriages that were just for stability. They literally loved each other. So I don’t blame her for going through a hard time. But she puts on a brave face, she tells jokes, she smiles, she makes the best out of everything. If there was ever a godly woman to use as an example for anything, that’s my mom. Like, that’s my mom!

She’s the best.

My friends – like you don’t understand what your bible studies did for me. It was an outlet. It was an outlet for the word of God, it was an outlet to see friends, it was a distraction, it was everything that I ever needed in one 2-hour session. We all sat together, we just drank tea, we talked about our day and we vented about how we felt about certain things and we gave each other resources on how to reach out to God in times of need. And my faith grew literally out of that. I have no question in God’s plan at all solely because you showed me how to do that. You and Alan, Andrew Mati, and Zain, like my friends from church were everything when all of this was going down.

Zain was a huge supporter too. There was one night that I just couldn’t deal and called him and cried for 3 hours and he just listened the whole time. He let me scream and yell and cry, and he let me slobber all over my phone like it was disgusting but it was so needed. He just listened the whole time. He didn’t have any advice, he didn’t need to – he just said, “I love you and I’m here for you” and that’s all I ever needed.

My friends are my support group, so they’re the reason why I’m getting through anything at all.

#7. If there is someone who is going through the same thing right now, what would you want to tell them? Someone out there in the world today.

Kathy: If there’s anybody who’s actually listening to this or reading this blog that’s going through the same thing, first of all: haaaay, don’t you just love it?

Just understand that this is not your fault, first of all. Because, there are days that you’ll actually feel that there was something you could have done differently, which is not true. God’s plan is so mysterious and so random and you have absolutely no control over it whatsoever. And yeah, sometimes it might not make any sense to you, but it’s not supposed to. You’re not supposed to understand.

You’re supposed to go along with it because imagine somebody holding a book of your life and everything amazing that’s going to happen is in this book, why would you ever want to plan something out for yourself? He’s got it all figured out. You don’t need to have it all figured out, he’s got it. He’s got you. That’s all you need.

And maybe this isn’t an ideal situation. Maybe this is really hard. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it really sucks. Maybe it’s the worst day of your life.

Just know, you are a role model for other people.

Other people who are going through things that are different or the exact same as you, you are a role model for them. You’re going to be the reason why they get through it because your story and your words and your experiences are going to be a mold for them, and a model that they can follow.

What you’re going through sucks. 100%. And I am sorry for what you are going through and I only hope that you can take a little bit of what I said today. Maybe some of it resonated with you, maybe none of it did at all. Maybe your experiences were totally different than mine, and all you gotta know is that that’s okay.

No one can invalidate your experience. Your experience is your experience. If you went through this like a superstar, like you were a militant in the army and you marched through this like “whatever, I’m good” then God bless you. And if you cried everyday and didn’t know how to deal and quit your job and fell out of school and couldn’t handle it that’s okay too, as long as at the end of the day you know your experience is valid and that you matter and that what you’re going through is hard and no one can take that away from you. As long as you know that you’re going to get through it.

I’m not going to tell you that everything is going to be fine. What I am going to tell you is that you’re gonna get through it. Everyday is a brighter day. Everyday is a blessing, a new day. The more time that goes on, the easier it becomes.

So as long as you can try your best to smile and be a positive force in the world and thank God for every day that you wake up healthy and happy, that’s all you need.

Literally, that’s all you need.

Wow. Thank you Kathy again for being so open and real with me throughout our chat. Thank you for reminding us all that we are imperfect and we don’t always know how to love our friends. I think we mess up friendships and relationships all the time because we don’t know how to navigate these tough times, but with everything you shared I think we can be prepared to try to love properly again.

Thank you for inspiring us all. For standing in the light. And for believing that God has a better plan, always.

Happy birthday to your father, Kathy. You are one strong, blessed young lady and we are all 100% behind you and your family.



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