I have a dear, wonderful, special friend in my life. Generally, he is a very lovely and caring person. Recently, he found out that his father has cancer. He tells me, "I got some really bad news today..." and told me in very general terms that his dad had a mass found in his colon. I immediately go into "care-taker" mode. I wasn't sure exactly what to say so I just asked him a number of questions -- trying to find out more (i.e has a biopsy been performed, has he had any scans, etc.).
I should mention that I lost both of my parents to cancer (mother when I was in my 20s, father when I was in my 30s) and just last year a good friend who was only 40 years old. So I feel like I know a bit about the disease and the stages and how things can help or hinder progress, etc.
As soon as I started asking him these questions he gets very defensive and says, "I know you know a lot about this but I don't want to talk about it". I responded by saying, "I understand, no pressure" and I told him then and the next day that I would hope he knows that he can lean on me if he needs some emotional support and that also I am available to do things that might alleviate stress.
He seemed very agitated and got up and left. I didn't talk to him until a day later and he still seemed weird. He said it was because I was acting weird. I explained that I was actually worried about him. He said that me worrying about him felt very insulting to him. I told him that I am currently under a lot of stress and I think that perhaps that may also be spilling into my "behavior." That seemed to pacify him.
This evening he calls and says he would like to hang out. We have a nice converstaon on the phone and then he says, "I've got some good news" and tells me that they did a cat scan and have not found any cancer outside of his colon -- it did not spread. I tell him it is wonderful and then started asking him some questions. He was trying to explain to me how this came about but I guess I interrupted him with a couple of questions. He immediately assumed that I wasn't listening to him and felt very insulted. I was only trying to help. He said he didn't want to hang out tonight and that he'd rather talk to me when I can pay attention to his needs. I apologized and said that I just misunderstood what he was saying. This was all on a cell phone and I was having difficulty discerning everything he said.
I'm now miserable. I want to be there for him. I guess I just need to sit and listen to him when he talks. However, I worry if I don't respond or ask questions he would take it as me not caring. I feel like I am putting my foot in my mouth and all I have are good intentions. I feel like that having gone through this twice with my parents, I have some insight, empathy and have shared the same feelings.
He said I am causing him stress and my worry is insulting. I feel like a total failure. This is something that touched me in my life. I did not know him then but I do remember how friends started to back away from me when my mother was very ill. I understand that cancer is not an easy subject but I remember wanting people to be there for me. Here I am trying to be there for him but am not successful at all.
How do you talk to someone who is going through a difficult time and is very sensitive to it? Also, I want him to make sure he eats and does things that he needs to do to take care of himself. I fear that if I back-off, he will then see it as desertion (the way I felt when "friends" started to back-off when I needed them most).