How To Be There For Someone Who Has Cancer
Updated: May 7, 2020
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Having a support system and just being there for someone who has cancer is so important. Most people send ‘thoughts and prayers’, which is nice, but a bit of an empty gesture, even though they mean well. It can be tough knowing exactly what to do or what to say, or how you can help in a real way, especially when you haven’t experienced something like this before. I decided to come up with an actionable list of things you can do to help someone battling cancer.
Listen. I’m sure there will be many times that you will feel lost for words when talking to a cancer patient. You may have no idea what to say, but that’s okay. You don’t always have to have an answer or give a response. Simply being a listening ear can be one of the best things you can do!
Some things you could say:
“I am so sorry you are going through this.”
“Have you asked your doctor about this? What did they say?”
“Have you talked to your partner about this?”
“I’m lost for words, but know that I am here, and I will always be here to listen.”
Drop by for Coffee. But first, call ahead. I loved sitting and talking about what was going on to my friends. I wasn’t always in the mood to leave my house, but having company (when I was up to it) was always nice. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a simple coffee will go a long way.
Drop off food. Going through treatment is not only exhausting but can make a cancer patient very sick. There were many times that I was too sick to cook. My husband did a lot of the cooking and cleaning which was great. We also had our family and friends drop off food. This saved us a lot of time and energy. When my husband didn’t have to cook a meal, he could spend that extra time with me. Even if he was just napping with me or we were watching TV, having him with me was the best! My taste buds were out of whack during chemo so I would recommend asking the patient what they like or what they are craving, or can even stomach, since they may be experiencing some serious nausea from the chemo.
Take him/her to an appointment. It’s crazy to think how many appointments I’ve been to over the last few years. I always enjoyed when a family member would come with me. It was nice to have company and someone I could talk to in the waiting room (where I spent many many hours). It was also nice having another set of ears to help me remember any important information that I was told. It was great not having to worry about finding a parking spot, or the stress of driving on a day when I really wasn’t feeling well. If you want to help your friend or family member, this is a great way to do it.
Be a Cheerleader. I always loved hearing words of encouragement from my family and friends. Whether it would be after I completed a surgery, chemo or radiation, it was so nice knowing that my people were cheering me on and rooting for me during my fight. This is a nice way to let the patient know that you are there for them, every step of the way. Just hearing them cheer me on, or get excited when I finished a certain stage of my treatment really lifted my spirits and gave me strength to face the next steps.
Don’t give advice unless asked. We REALLY don’t want to hear that ‘celery juice may cure our cancer’ or whatever BS internet theories are being promoted on Facebook these days. Unless we specifically ask you advice on a certain topic, please don’t share your opinion too much. We are already overwhelmed with a ton of information from the actual professionals and are going through a very challenging time, and this will only make things more stressful and quite frankly, it will be super irritating. Unless you are an oncologist, registered nutritionist or other medical professional, please keep your comments to yourself!
Can I help you do this _____? (Fill in the blank). Quite a few people have said “Let me know what I can do to help you” which I know is coming from a good place, but to be honest, a lot of us don’t like asking for help; I know I don’t. It would be best if you specifically offered to do something for us like:
- pick up the kids from school on chemo days
- cook a meal for us after we’ve had surgery
- pick up a prescription for us
- take us wig shopping
- deliver groceries (those times when we are too immunocompromised to go out especially!)
- clean the house
The list is endless, just be specific if you really want to help! And even more than that, be sincere. Don’t offer to do something that you really don’t want to do. We can tell, which will make us feel guilty, which we already do because we can’t do anything for ourselves and have to rely on others to help. (It’s a vicious cycle!)
Gift Ideas. You don’t need to get someone a gift, but if you wanted to, I have included some ideas that I particularly loved. I was so extremely lucky and grateful to receive so many beautiful gifts from family and friends. I think the most popular idea is to send someone flowers or a plant; flowers always brighten up a room and bring some beauty and life into a home. This is definitely a lovely idea, but here are a few others that are also really nice to receive:
- scarf or hat (to cover up a bald head!)
- a piece of jewelry with a message (for example a necklace that says warrior)
- treats (who doesn’t love getting donuts or cupcakes?!)
- cute lounge wear
- a journal
Rethink Breast Cancer - https://rethinkbreastcancer.com/
Check out @rethinkbreastcancer on Instagram. They sell a line of products for young women with breast cancer.
Thrive Gang - https://thrivegang.co/
Take a look at @thrivegang on Instagram for some super cute clothing and jewelry you could order! I have the Warrior necklace and I am obsessed!
Chemo Kits - https://chemo-kits.com/
Check out @chemokits. I didn’t get sent a chemo kit, but I know I would have loved one when I was going through chemo!
The Breasties - https://thebreasties.org/
Take a look at @the_breasties on Instagram. They have an online shop with adorable clothing, hats, mugs and jewelry.
Pink Pearl Canada - https://pinkpearlcanada.org/
Take a look at @pinkpearlcanada on Instagram. They sell some cute t-shirts, beautiful bracelets and a water bottle.
This is not a paid endorsement, I just really like all of these things and I'm sure anyone battling cancer would as well :)
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. My most important piece of advice is to please be sensitive when talking to someone who is literally fighting for their life.
Oh, and if you haven’t had a chance to read my blog post “Sh*t Not To Say To A Cancer Patient,” I also recommend you read that too!!!