'Just being You is more than enough': How to support friends through tough times

Published on: 04 August 2021

When Karl Newson was diagnosed with cancer, his friends were there to support him - and now he's thanking them with new book How to Mend a Friend.

Here, he shares his story and offers advice and book recommendations for people who want to help their loved ones through difficult times.

Karl Newson and the front cover of his book How to Mend a Friend

Almost two and a half years ago to this day, I began a journey I'd not taken before. I knew the door where it would begin - my own front door. It took me down the road and round the corner, into the reception and then the consulting room of my local GP.

I explained to him that I had found a lump, and, it being visible, he soon found it too. I knew what it was - I had delayed this journey by almost two months and had eventually been nagged to go to the doctors by my mum because I had accidentally let it slip at Christmas (thank you, Mum!)

I listened to the doctor calmly explaining what we would do next: hospital for an ultrasound, a camera, blood tests and then a biopsy to confirm. As I stood up to open the door to leave, I said, 'Thank you' to him and he smiled back and said, 'Good luck', and I think that was the moment I first felt powered up and ready to beat this. Touch wood, I have.

Memories full of kindness and love

A spread from How to Mend a Friend

My journey hasn't truly ended yet, but I think we could put it into chapters and say that I'm at the good end of it now. It put me through some surreal and difficult challenges, but my memories are full of the kindness and love and support I experienced throughout, and all the many ways I was powered up by friends just when I needed it.

I received cards, letters, cakes, cookies, books, postcards, poems, flowers, all manner of homemade gifts from pencil cases to knitted elephants, and well over 50 elephant illustrations from illustrators and friends around the world, mostly through Twitter - elephants are my favourite animals, in case you wondered!

Those elephants became my herd of protectors and I'm pretty sure the huge boost they gave me will give me a power-up whenever I need it, for the rest of my life. I was very lucky to be so well supported by friends old and new, and I'm not sure how I could have got through this many chapters without them.

The many ways to help your friends

A spread from How to Mend a Friend

I wrote How to Mend a Friend as a way of trying to say thank you to everyone who supported me, and also as a helpful guide for anyone who might be finding a situation difficult and needs a little support.

It struck me that each of my friends had reached out in a different way, and I began to take a note of all of those ways. I realised that it was the act of them wanting to help that helped me more than anything.

Helping a friend can be easy and it can be hard. It can be a word or a picture, a hug or a smile, a listening ear or just providing space.

Being able to understand a situation can be easy or hard, too. Being able to know that it's OK if you just can't do anything, that's it's not on you, and that you don't need to be anything beyond who you are, is the thing I wanted to say most of all. Just being You is more than enough and absolutely perfect.

How to Mend a Friend is illustrated by the brilliant Clara Anganuzzi, who took my words and brought them to life, giving each line a feel and a vibe of its own, making each and every moment understandable and making it a story we could share with everyone.

Stories that can help us understand different feelings

The Worrysaurus

Books - and for me, picture books especially - can be incredibly useful in helping us to understand a feeling or situation. To read it and see it through someone else's journey allows us to experience it with them inside those pages. Here are some books that do this wonderfully:

  • Grandad's Island by Benji Davies tackles the death of a grandparent in a beautiful way.
  • What Happened to You? by James Catchpole and Karen George shows us how it might feel to be constantly asked about something you would really rather forget.
  • Barbara Throws a Wobbler by Nadia Shireen gives us an excellent look at moods - what they are, how they make us act, and what we can do about them.
  • Pip & Egg by Alex Latimer and David Litchfield discusses our differences - growing up, growing apart, and the friendships that stay forever.
  • The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright and Chris Chatterton tackles anxiety and discusses the comfort we can find in our own little things to help chase those tummy butterflies away and ultimately enjoy the day.

We're all taking different journeys, all the time. Some of us have elephants to help us along the way; some of us might be looking for our own ways to take each step.

My hope is that How to Mend a Friend will be a help to anyone who needs it, however far along their journey they are. You got this.

More books about kindness, compassion and empathy

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