What you can do for someone with cancer

Cancer is scary – for everyone. When someone you love is diagnosed with it, it can often be hard to find the words to say. "Cancer sucks" may be true, but what words can you use (and not use) to affirm and build up your loved one? My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 and our whole family took it hard. Her mom had passed away from the disease years before, and the memories from that time compounded with the news to make us feel as if our world was collapsing. God is so good, and thankfully, my mom was declared cancer-free just one year after her diagnosis. I asked her recently what people had done for her during that year that were truly helpful, because I think so often it feels impossible to know what you can do or say to be a good friend in the midst of something as scary as cancer. I'm so honored to share her words with you today...

 
 

When I was diagnosed with cancer, there were several things that people did that were so helpful... Here are a few things I would suggest you can do (and can avoid doing) to make the day of someone with cancer:

 

DON'T: 

  • Say the vague but often used statement, "Call me if you need me!" They won't. Understand that they're likely too overwhelmed to ask what they need, they don't want to be a bother, and it may be very difficult for them to lose some of their basic independence. Take the initiative by offering specifics, like walking their dog, picking up their kids from school, watering their flowers, or doing their laundry. 
  • Visit without checking in with them first. Your first instinct might be to go to their side and spend time with them, but a cancer diagnosis involves a wide variety of emotions and they might not be up to having visitors. If they turn down your offer to come hang out, don't take it personally... but feel free to ask again another time. They'll always appreciate that you asked.
  • Always ask for all the details about the current state of your friend's health. It can get difficult to have to share the details over and over again, and there's certainly more to them than just a cancer diagnosis. 

 

DO: 

  • Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions, are following any guidelines, or if anything in particular sounds terrible. I remember certain things tasting awful because of the way the chemo affected my tastebuds. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they're not up for it – a cooler left outside the front door is perfect for this. Deliver a Tupperware of several pre-made meals your friend can heat up as needed. Use Tupperware you don't need returned.
  • Offer to run their errands. Groceries, toiletries, picking up prescriptions, you name it. Be in and out, no socializing needed. 
  • Offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments. I had a friend who picked me up for my treatment every Friday morning, large Sonic drink in hand. She waited while I got my treatment, then took me home. It gave me something to look forward to on Fridays, but it also freed up my husband to get some work done – it was hard for him not to feel as if every little thing was his responsibility alone to do while I was sick. 
  • Offer to do something fun with their kids. Cancer effects everyone living in the house – not just the person with it. If they have kids, offer to take them somewhere for an afternoon to do something fun. My treatments covered an entire summer, so there were a lot of days that they were stuck at home with me. Also, taking care of someone with cancer is a big responsibility, and is probably a big shift for any kid in the house to handle. Invite them to dinner or a movie one night or Saturday afternoon. Just getting away from it for a little bit “recharges the batteries.”
  • Gift a super comfy blanket. I promise it will be one of their favorite and most-used gifts – I had a blanket with me at all times. It kept me warm when I was (often) suddenly cold, and it made the car rides to and from treatment so much more bearable to my bones. 
  • Send a quick email, text, or message saying you're thinking of them. Text them a silly joke or photo (we can all use cheering up from time to time!). Add "No need to respond" to the end of your message – they'll appreciate hearing from you without feeling the need to do anything in return. Just the reminder that they are loved and have someone on their side is often enough to get through the day. 
 

Empathy card by Emily McDowell, photo of my mom and I by Lauren Kinsey