How to Help a Loved One With Cancer

Touched by Cancer - a series at Authentic Simplicity Have you been touched by cancer? Maybe not you personally, but a close friend or family member? Then this series is for you. In honor of a dear friend of mine who was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year, I dedicate this small space of the internet to spreading hope and compassion in the face of a terrible disease. Hope for prevention and treatment, and compassion for those suffering. Please share the posts in this series with anyone you know who has been touched by cancer.

When someone we love faces a terrible diagnosis, we are often paralyzed by the fear of saying and doing the wrong thing. We want to help, we want to be a blessing, but we just don’t know how. So we either bumble our way through, trying to help without interfering, or we simply do nothing.

What our suffering loved ones really need is truly quite simple. When my friend was diagnosed with colon cancer, her family and friends gathered round her in an amazing, beautiful way to show how much they loved her. She has expressed on multiple occasions her appreciation for all that has been done on her behalf, and I know that the heavy load she carries has been made lighter by the care of those who love her.

Chances are, at some point in your life, someone you love will be dealt such a diagnosis, and you will be left wondering how to help a loved one with cancer. Although everyone is different, I imagine just about anybody would appreciate the following gestures of support:

praying woman

Prayer

Never underestimate the power of prayer! Prayers for healing, for comfort, for wisdom on behalf of the doctors, for wisdom on behalf of the family that is suffering as they choose treatment options and doctors and medications, for the children affected by the diagnosis, and on and on it goes. Even if you can do nothing else… you can pray!

Visit

When it became clear that my friend was going to be bed-ridden for some time and unable to adequately care for her family, a cousin took the time to set up a Care Calendar where anyone could sign up to visit with her. In her case, these visits were physically necessary – my friend needed someone to be with her at all times. But soon, those visits became very dear to her – even though at first it was hard for her to swallow her pride and accept people’s offering of time – because, as she put it, “Those visits kept me out of my own head.” She feels that she would succumb to depression if it weren’t for the cheering and encouraging visits of her friends when she needed that encouragement the most.

If your friend is going to need such care for the long-term and doesn’t have anyone else to set up such a schedule, go ahead and offer to coordinate it! I know the Care Calendar has been a huge blessing to my friend and her family as they juggle her care, her children, and meals for all of them.

Whether or not it’s necessary to set up such a schedule in your situation, you can be sure that your friend will still benefit from a neighborly visit. It should go without saying that you might want to call and set up a good time instead of just showing up, but don’t let fear keep you from taking the time to go and chat with your friend. And don’t worry about what to say, either! Just go and chat like you normally would. Just be the friend that you already are.

Care for Children

If a parent is diagnosed with cancer, particularly a mother, someone is going to need to help provide care for children, especially young children. In my friend’s case, this care was also arranged through the Care Calendar, where people could sign up to take the children and watch them for a day. Even if your friend doesn’t need childcare on a regular basis, there are bound to be occasions when you could lend a helping hand by baby-sitting for a few hours:

  • to give the patient time to rest and recuperate
  • when they are at doctor’s appointments or undergoing medical tests
  • so the parents can spend time together

Fruit Stewed Beef  and Salad

Meals

A meal is always welcome, whether or not you’ve undergone a tragedy in your life. I will warn you, though: people often decline a friendly offer such as this out of sheer politeness and maybe a touch of pride. My suggestion? Say, “I have a meal ready to bring you. What time is good for me to drop it off?” Make sure your meal is freezable and reheatable so that they can pop it into the freezer if their meal for that night is already prepared. But trust me. They will appreciate your kindness (just so long as your meal is a yummy one!). 

Again, if long-term care is needed, it might be beneficial to the family to organize your community to help out with the meals on a regular basis. Take Them a Meal is a great web-based resource that will help you do just that! Here’s a sample schedule so you can see how it works.

Transportation

Cancer patients, no matter what treatment protocol they choose, have lots and lots of doctor’s appointments, and may need transportation depending on their situation. If you have a fairly open schedule and a reliable vehicle, just offer yourself as a regular mode of transportation. Or, even if you’re not available all the time, just say, “Any time you have an appointment on Monday afternoon, I’d be happy to give you a ride.”

Share Connections & Knowledge

This one is a little tricky. No one appreciates unsolicited advice, but if you truly have valuable information and insight to offer… then offer it. And don’t be offended if your friend chooses to ignore it. That’s her prerogative. But I will say that my friend was very grateful for the people who told her little things like the lozenges that help you through the chemo side effects, or the cancer center in our area that provides all kinds of free services for cancer patients, or the friend who had a fancy-schmancy walker that she no longer needed and was happy to lend it out. She was also grateful for her friends in the medical community who knew this or that doctor, and/or this or that approach to medical care, and could help guide her in her decision.

But like I said, this one’s a tricky business. If you have no personal experience with a product or medical technique or xyz-whatever other than a blog post you read somewhere or something you heard on the radio, then just zip it. Just be a friend, not a pseudo-expert. 

And in the end, that’s what it’s all about. There’s nothing really complicated about it once you get past the fear factor. She was your friend before, she’s still your friend now, and the C-Word doesn’t change that. It just makes it richer and all the more meaningful. 

If you have ever been a cancer patient, what are some meaningful ways people have helped you?

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Comments

  1. KellyK says:

    I had cancer earlier this year. While I was waiting for surgery(removal of my right kidney) and then the pathology report, I had a LOT of people praying for me all across the country and the world! Thanks to the wonderful power of the internet, people I’d never even met were praying for me. I’m one who believes every little prayer helps. And in my case, they did!

  2. Wow, great tips, Anne. Thank you for sharing them for this thoughtful series.

  3. AmandaE says:

    When I was dealing with my treatments many moons ago (10yrs cancer free in March!!!) I couldn’t get enough of fresh bread – esp sourdough. It was soft enough that it didn’t make my jaw hurt and simple enough that it mostly stayed down. I was so thankful for my mom’s neighbor who kept the good stuff coming!

  4. Lisa Maria says:

    Hello Anne, visiting from the Thought provoking Thursday linkup. I cannot tell you how this post touched my heart. We lost my MIL to cancer in June of this year. Unfortunately not many of these things could be done for her since she refused to eat (she ended up with a feeding tube so she wouldn’t starve), hated having visitors and avoided phone calls. We did pray alot and I continued to make meals for her even though she wouldn’t touch them. So wonderful to see an encouraging and inspiring post like this. Glad to meet you.

    God bless!

  5. I love all the tips, especially the idea of creating a Care Calendar. My mil had a stroke over a week ago. She already has diabetes and had back surgery about 18 months ago. I think we’re at the point where my fil can’t care for her and go to work. The poor man is in his 70′s, too. Since I’m a sil, I will offer what suggestions I can, and be available to help in whatever way is needed.

    • Anne Simpson says:

      Barb, so sorry about your MIL! My husband’s grandmother had a stroke this summer and is still recovering. Thankfully, she was able to move in with my in-laws and is now getting to the point where she can live on her own again under certain conditions.

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