What no one ever tells you about serious illness is that it places you at the centre of a maelstrom of concerned attention from family and friends. Of course it does. That's one of the nice things. It's actually the only nice thing. But it's also a rather tricky challenge, at a time when you may feel – just slightly – that you have enough on your plate. Suddenly, on top of everything else, you are required to manage the emotional requirements of all those who are dear to you, and also, weirdly, one or two people who you don't see from one year to the next, but who suddenly decide that they really have to be at your bedside, doling out homilies, 24 hours a day.
It's lovely to hear from people when you're ill. But it's also lovely when they add: "No need to reply." The biggest shock, when I was diagnosed with cancer the summer before last, was quickly observing that people can be quite competitive in their determination to "be there for you", and occasionally unable to hide their chagrin when some other chum has been awarded a particularly sensitive role at a particularly sensitive medical consultation. Nobody means to be intrusive or irritating. It's all done with the finest intentions. But, God, it's a pain. Yet by not saying 10 simple things, you too, can be the friend in need that you want to be.