Question Submitted: I have a friend who is struggling with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The way she has been acting, I feel that she might be upset about her condition, not knowing what to do, who to talk to, how to navigate the doctors.
How can I encourage my friend without causing her pain or frustrating her by reminding her of her PCOS? I want to help her, not be a hindrance, and most importantly I want to be sensitive, as this is a very private matter for her and her husband. In what she has said to me, I think she wants someone to talk to, someone to ask about her.
If you could give any advice as to how I can encourage her, or any other things I should keep in mind about PCOS, that would be most helpful.
Two things are certain: 1) your friend is blessed to have someone as attentive, thoughtful, and caring in her life as you, and 2) as soon as I give specific advice on how to care for your friend with PCOS, someone will write to me to tell me that my advice is not specifically true for them.
Therefore, respecting the fact that every woman is different and has different needs, I think I can best serve you by explaining how I would care for your friend if I were in your shoes.
First, let me start by telling you what I would not do:
1. I would not offer her medical advice or armchair-diagnose her condition, for I am not her doctor. She has plenty of professionals in her life running diagnostics and writing prescriptions, and all of them are more qualified to be doing so than me.
2. I would not send her links to PCOS blogs or offer her magazine articles on the newest vitamin supplements for evening out hormone levels. If she wants to know about such things, she will take the time to look into these matters herself or ask me directly for help. If she has chosen not to fill her reading queue with CNN’s latest groundbreaking discovery on ovarian cysts, then I can help protect her privacy by letting things be.
3. I would not try explaining to her why she has not yet gotten pregnant, for I do not know such things, only God does.
4. I would not bother telling her that everything will get better tomorrow, for God has not promised her that – and she will either call my bluff or despair when my false promise doesn’t come true.
Here is what I would do:
1. I would pray for her, that God would guard and protect her against the evil one and that He would preserve and sustain her faith in Him through her suffering. I would also ask God, should it be according to His will, to take this cup from her.
2. I would call her or go over to her house and say, “How are you doing today?” Then, I would listen. For a long time. And ask her even more questions just so that I can listen to her even longer. (There is a big difference between my asking questions simply to satisfy my selfish desire for answers and my asking questions to allow my friend to unload her heavy burden. I am talking about the latter.)
3. I would let awkward pauses be awkward and accept the suffering God has given me in being the friend of someone who suffers from a chronic illness and who asks unanswerable questions. I would pray for her during those pauses. I might even cry if I am so moved.
4. I would get her a Kleenex when she needs one.
5. I would be sure to tell her that I love her and admire her just the way she is today and that no amount of PCOS or anything else can change that.
6. I would let her teach me what she needs. I would ask her questions like, “How can I help you? How can I be a better friend to you? What hurts you the most in all of this? What brings you comfort when you are sad? What is your favorite hymn? How can I pray for you?” Then, I would try to remember her answers and use them accordingly.
7. If she is struggling with ethical decisions surrounding her treatment plan, I would encourage her and her husband to go talk with their pastor.
8. I would protect her privacy and defend her reputation in public.
9. I would not let the quality of our friendship be determined by her actions but by my own. She may be depressed, and I can forgive much in Christ.
10. I would try to do all of the above over and over again.
Now, about PCOS.
My own doctor described PCOS as a wide umbrella under which many infertility symptoms can fall, and all of those symptoms are usually related to a hormonal imbalance which interferes with ovulation and produces multiple ovarian cysts. Women with PCOS often suffer from one or more of the following symptoms.
As with most subcategories of infertility, PCOS is often chronic and, therefore, requires patience and endurance as doctors work to find treatment plans which best manage a patient’s particular symptoms.
Thank you for bearing with your friend in love.