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How to Help Someone Who’s Fighting Cancer

I had said about a month ago that I would talk a bit about my mother-in-law’s terminal diagnosis.  She has pancreatic cancer.  We are piling up memories.  Making sure that the younger grandchildren have time with her is a high priority.  Both my husband and I are able to offer support and BE THERE.  Not everyone can.

Cancer, unfortunately, is a fairly common affliction. Chances are good that you’ll eventually know someone who’s fighting their way through the disease. It may be a child at your center, a staff member or a person in your personal life. Avoid being that friend who doesn’t come around or call when someone you know is dealing with serious illness. Step up to be the one your friend or loved one can count on to help.

Consider these ways to help a loved one fight one of the toughest battles of their life:

  1. State, “I’m here to help you.” Then, mean it. Be definite and specific since a person with cancer needs people who will push forward and help them get the daily things done so they can rest and recuperate from chemotherapy and radiation treatments if they are going through treatment.  If they aren’t currently having treatment, they will still need help.
  2. Rather than ask what you can do, say what you will Be specific. “I can pick up your kids from school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while you’re getting chemotherapy. They can stay at the center and play with my kids until you get home. Will that work for you?”
  3. Cook dinner for your friend and their family every week. Make lasagna and buy a bag of salad and drop it off. Brew a big pot of soup and take it over. Make a Crockpot full of pulled pork, buy coleslaw at your local deli, and drop them off with fresh buns for quick sandwiches.
  • Providing nourishment and pre-made meals for your cancer-fighting friend can be the most loving thing to do for them and their family members. 
  • Be aware that they will probably have a smaller appetite than usual while undergoing treatment.
  1. Take them to therapy. One of the scariest parts of dealing with cancer is undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. It can be a 3- or 4-hour session at the cancer treatment center followed by them getting a contraption strapped on that has an I.V. connected to it that continues to deliver more medication over the next few days.  Don’t feel you have to talk the who time.  Being comfortable sitting with someone in silence is golden.
  • Transporting to and from these sessions can be so helpful for family members that are overloaded with the stress of dealing with the disease on a day-to-day basis. Plus, family members often must continue to work to bring money into the household and can’t be available every day to transport.
  1. Ask when the best time is for them to receive calls. Keep in mind that your loved one who has cancer feels very tired and will be trying to nap and rejuvenate as much as possible. Make arrangements for when you’ll call so it won’t disturb them. You could also ask them to text or call you when they feel like talking.  When you are there pay attention to their cues, and cut the visit short if they are in pain or tired.  I know you miss spending time with them, but they may not be up to it for as long as you are.
  2. Be sensitive and understanding. If you’ve ever needed to be aware of someone’s feelings, it’s when a friend is coping with cancer. Your friend might be feeling cranky and annoyed. Or they might be crying and depressed.
  • Sometimes, if you just listen and acknowledge that their reactions are normal and they’re entitled to their feelings, it’s all that’s necessary to lend support.
  • Find something you can do with them that helps them feel like their old self.  For my mother-in-law it is flowers and gardening.  Is there a way to create a small way to bring that back into their life?
  1. Deal appropriately with your own feelings first. You might be feeling pretty devastated about the news that your loved one has cancer. Allow yourself to cry about it with your spouse or another friend before you talk with your sick friend. The image I used for this blog is the ring theory of grief.  When you are in pain you want to express that pain to others who are affected.  The key element is to share with people in the same circle or those further out.  Don’t go inward, they are dealing with it on more levels than you are.  If the people in the middle want to talk with you- fine.  Otherwise, share outward.
  • Lean on your journal to help you process your feelings and work to accept what’s happening regarding your loved one’s health. Giving yourself a day or two to adjust to the news before speaking to the friend with cancer (if possible) will help you focus more on how they’re feeling and what they’re going through.
  1. Make a consistent effort to take a positive approach. The fact is that many people survive cancer these days. Tell her you’re proud of how she’s handling the whole thing. Acknowledge how she continues to do whatever is necessary to cope with her illness. The more positive energy you can bring to her, the better she’ll fare through her recovery.

Do what you can to be a consistent, strong support to a loved one fighting cancer. You’ll be so glad you did.

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