My Child Has Cancer, but Please Don't Say 'Let Me Know If You Need Anything'

I think the phrase “Let me know if you need anything” is so cliche. Most moms in a situation with a critically ill child would simply thank you and that would be the end of the conversation. Understandably, when people hear you are faced with adversity, they search for the proper thing to say and often say the above.

For a cancer mom faced with making daily decisions that have the ability to impact whether or not your child thrives, thinking of the 101 things we actually have to do today, using this bland statement comes off less than empathetic. Having a healthy child takes a village, so having a child with cancer takes that village and a few extra villages.

When you tell a mom fighting for her child’s life “Let me know if you need anything,” I’m hear to tell you that goes to the bottom of the to-do list. Not intentionally, but its a closed-end statement; it requires us to actually think about all of the many things we need help with when sometimes we don’t exactly know what we need.

Do I think the person who says “Let me know if you need anything” means any harm? Absolutely not. I think it’s the defaulted polite thing to say. But I don’t exactly take this statement seriously.

A better way to show your support and willingness to actually help is to simply observe, listen for or ask what specific things we may need help with — and then just do it, whatever it is! In the midst of something critical happening in someone’s life, it is easy to lose your thoughts and forget about all the simple things. This is when it is time to step up.

Here are a few acts of love a cancer mom would be immensely grateful for:

Be present. I can’t stress how much just having company means to a mom when her child is sick. If you’re uncomfortable talking about the illness, I promise you the mom would not mind not discussing her child’s illness.

Help organize getting meals to the home or hospital. With apps like OrderUp and InstaCart it takes less than 30 minutes to have a hot meal delivered or an order of groceries dropped off at their home.

If you’re not local and want to help, gift cards are an excellent idea. Amazon and most big name companies have virtual gift cards that are delivered straight to an email address. And Amazon has everything in life to make a hospital stay more comfortable.

Offer to help with the siblings of the sick child. Take them out for a few hours, offer to help with after school activities or accompany your friend to a doctor’s appointment where you can entertain the siblings. A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family; any small gesture to the sibling of a sick child is more than appreciated.

Don’t just be eager to help in the beginning. Everyone is eager to offer help in the beginning — I call it the honeymoon stage. Many don’t realize a cancer diagnosis could potentially be a life-long battle. Set your alarm in your calendar to check in and see what you can physically help the family of the sick child with three, six, nine and 12 months down the line. Just the thought of not being forgotten will make their day.

Gather friends to help thoroughly clean and disinfect their home before they are discharged from the hospital. This is especially helpful if the child is immune-compromised. Something even as small as cleaning out the fridge is a huge help.

Don’t forget them! A sense a normalcy clears the mind temporarily, so don’t not invite them to gatherings. Whether they are able to attend or not, please refrain from treating them like they don’t exist in your life because they have a sick child.

Hopefully these tips help shed some light on things and encourage you to be present, proactive and supportive to the mom of a critically ill child.

And remember, please don’t say “Let me know if you need anything.”

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Thinkstock photo by Rayes

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