People often wonder how they can help cancer patients and their families. Since you can’t take their cancer away, can you really make a difference? Yes, absolutely!
Your friendship is significant, and the things you say and do will really matter to the patient and his or her family. So if you want to make someone with cancer feel loved, try some of these tips.
1. Show up.
Sit with them at chemo or watch a movie on their couch. Bring a deck of cards, a plate of brownies, a funny joke or nothing at all. When they are in the hospital ask if they want visitors. Don’t be offended if they are too sick; usually they love company.
The best way to know what they need is being present in their lives enough to see and hear them before they even ask.
2. Say something.
After diagnosis some friends disappear or avoid the topic of cancer. Sometimes the silence cuts the deepest. Don’t be that friend. Try to think of something comforting or supportive to say. It may not come out right. You may not be an eloquent speaker or writer. That’s OK. Just say something.
Tell them you are thinking of them and you want to be supportive. As you get to know your friend and how they deal with cancer on a deeper level, you will learn some of the “right” things to say. It’s OK to guess for now. They need to hear that you care.
Cancer patients and their families are usually full of emotions. Once you gain their trust they may have a lot to unload. You might be surprised at their thoughts. Maybe they complain about a seemingly innocent comment from a friend. Maybe they are upset with a nurse that is trying her best. Maybe their irrational thought train tells them a new freckle means they are dying.
Never judge. Just listen. Validate their feelings and help them feel understood. Sorting through emotions is therapeutic, so ask follow-up questions if they enjoy talking. But never pressure them.
Be content to listen whenever they feel ready to talk.
4. Do something.
Don’t wait to be asked. Don’t wonder if they need anything. If they have a cancer diagnosis in the family, they most likely need something. Offer suggestions to gauge what’s most helpful if you are unsure. Otherwise take a guess and go for it.
Bring freezer meals, treats, gift cards, groceries or toiletries. Bring something fun for the kids or offer to take them to the park. Shovel their snow or mow their lawn. Invite your friend to go out or stay in with you — whatever they prefer. Bring them a blanket, book, card or gift.
5. Appreciate your life and health.
Find gratitude in the little things each day. Spend time with your loved ones and focus on the important things. Make your life worth living and fill it with joy. Think about things you take for granted. When walking down the street notice how your legs move. When eating a delicious meal pay attention to the smell and taste. When throwing a ball with your kids be glad your arm bends that way.
Live a little deeper and be a little kinder.
Many cancer patients and families become passionate about charitable causes. Don’t wait for a funeral to send money in their honor. Give to cancer research if that’s their interest. It should be specific to their type of cancer or the hospital they care about.
Maybe they took a life-changing trip and want to provide that opportunity to others. Maybe they received help with lodging or travel or daily expenses. Or maybe they see a gap in cancer care somewhere you can help fill. If you can’t donate money then donate time. Volunteer at the hospital or help plan a fundraising event. There are so many ways to give!
7. Don’t forget.
Cancer is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s easy to remember your friend in the first few weeks when it’s at the forefront of your mind. But over time the story becomes familiar and fades. Cancer doesn’t usually get easier — in many cases it gets harder. So especially if you feel like the cancer treatment is never-ending, your friend probably feels that even more. Months and years down the road it’s much harder to find support.
Remember that even after active treatment your friend still faces hardships from cancer and still needs you.
Above all, your friend with cancer wants to know you care. Be there for them, be kind and find your own ways to love them. They love having you in their life and they need you now more than ever. Let cancer bring you closer and make your friendship stronger.
This post was previously published on ContemplatingCancer.com.
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