Unfortunately, we all know someone going through cancer or other debilitating illness. And sometimes, we don’t know how to help. Chances are you’ve read an article similar to this one. But, it’s always good to have a reminder on what to do and not to do when someone has cancer.
“You have cancer.” When it happens to you, you just put your head down and get through it as best you can. What else can you do?
But, when it happens to a loved one, a friend, colleague, neighbour, or even a casual acquaintance, we feel badly. We’re shocked, concerned, even scared. We want to help, but we’re unsure of what to do. We’re at a loss for words because we don’t want to say the wrong thing. So, sometimes we say or do nothing. We may even avoid them.
No words are needed
My first thought is to just be there. You don’t have to say a thing. Sit with them. Lend them a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to vent in, a tissue to wipe their tears. Allow them the dignity of their own pain. You can’t fix it for them as much as you’d like to.
Sitting in silence is a hard thing to do. We always feel the need to fill the void. But, sitting next to someone in their pain is comforting for them, not for you. Keep that in mind.
Don’t offer advice. Don’t relay your own cancer stories. Everyone’s experience is different. The only exception is if they ask. Let them take the lead.
Things you can do
If you’re a person of action, then run errands, cook a meal, do a load of wash, drive them to an appointment, or take the kids for an afternoon. All are welcome, kind, and helpful gestures.
Just don’t ask THEM for suggestions on how YOU can help. That’s another burden on their already over-taxed emotional state. Let’s be honest. If you say, “Let me know how I can help?”, that’s never going to happen. Unless, of course, you’re super close to them, and then you’ll already know the answer.
Send them a cancer care package if they’re going through chemo or radiation. Joyful Packages has a selection of thoughtfully curated cancer care items for men, women, children, and caregivers. Joy Rodgers, the founder of Joyful Packages, is a breast cancer survivor.
A soft and breathable bamboo head covering is a thoughtful gift that will be greatly appreciated. Even during warmer months, your head gets cold without any hair. I currently have a few fuchsia and teal headscarves available.
Coming soon, I’ll have headscarves in a new light and dark grey micro stripe bamboo. Plus, a new style of beanie.
These will be available in April and I’m going to have a Giveaway so keep an eye out. The best way to stay in the know is to subscribe to my Keeping Abreast mailing list.
PICC line covers are also a practical and caring gift. It shows you’ve done some research. You don’t know you need one, until you’re into chemotherapy and you have a PICC line.
A card in the mail is a good way to let people know you’re thinking of them. Particularly during these Covid times, when close contact may not be a good idea with their compromised immune system.
Having said that though, an in-person visit may be just what they need for their emotional well-being. Often we think we shouldn’t be bothering someone going through treatment. We picture them resting in bed all day. However, that’s typically not the case, at least not all the time. Maybe they’re feeling isolated and would like some company. Maybe they’d love to get out of the house and go for a walk or a coffee or tea. Doing something “normal” may be just the thing to lift their spirits. You can always ask, letting them know it’s ok if they say no. And, remember to keep your visit/outing on the shorter side.
Finally, don’t tell them how ‘good’ they look especially if they’ve lost their hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. Don’t say anything that doesn’t ring true. They’ve looked in the mirror. They may have gained or lost weight. Their skin may be pale and grey looking, or puffy, or burnt. Their nails may be dark. They may be having hot flashes, or nausea. The drugs are powerful and the side effects many, and everyone is affected differently.
The last thing they want is your pity though. Ask how they’re doing? How are their treatments going? Is there anything that helps with the side effects that you could pick up for them?
There are so many ways we can let people know we care. I’m sure you have your own experiences, ideas, and suggestions. Please drop them in the comments so we can share. The more ideas we have, the better prepared we’ll be to help someone going through a challenging time in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
Until next time,
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Right on Colleen!.. an excellent article and appreciated.
Thanks, Mary! I hope it helps.
Thank you for all this precious advice, Colleen. It was very enlightening to learn what cancer patients go through. We read bits and pieces here and there but this is a most revealing article that describes it as it is and a real wake up call for those who haven’t lived through the experience. I copied the contents and saved it in my electronic medical file; I could have used this a few months ago, however I know it’s a matter of time before I have to resort to it again. So, thank you!
Diane, Thanks so much for taking the time to read this article and saving it for future reference. Let’s hope you won’t need it for a long time.