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Don't Ask a Cancer Patient's Caregiver How You Can Help — Do This Instead

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“How can I help?”

I lost track of how many times I was asked that question as a cancer patient’s caregiver.  About 99 percent of the time, I didn’t have a good answer either. I usually had my hands full dealing with some crisis, and my mind was often sleep-deprived — especially as my wife’s cancer progressed and my exhaustion and desperation set in. All I know is I wanted someone to just show up and do something.

Looking back at my wife’s cancer ordeal, I’m so grateful for the few people who truly did show up. But I was also disappointed by the many “grief tourists” who just stopped by for a visit and left as soon as they could.

Cancer caregiving is just indescribably hard at times. Cortisol never stops pulsing through your body as you try desperately to tend to your loved one — all while hoping for a miracle to rescue you and your loved one from this nightmare.

If someone were to ask me today how to help a cancer patient and their caregiver, I can only say “Use your imagination.”

Imagine a loved one with cancer. Then imagine the nightmare of having to care for someone you dearly love who is seriously ill — and how you might want someone to help you in that situation. And if you can’t think of any nightmare scenarios, I’ll be glad to offer a few — or maybe a dozen or so.  Ones that involve early mornings. The middle of the night. Time spent over the sink. Time spent over the toilet. The car rides home after chemotherapy. The car rides home after whole-brain radiation. The ER. The ER again — for 12 hours. The ER once again — at 2:00 in the morning. The hospital. Rehab. Hospice.

And the place no one wants to be: Next to a soulmate’s deathbed.

So don’t ask, “How can I help?” And don’t stop by with a potted plant or a vase of flowers with a store-bought “Thinking of you” card and leave it at the front door. Instead, figure out a good time to show up for the caregiver, and figure out what would be helpful. Then do it.

Questions can only go so far, but your actions can make a caregiver’s life a little more bearable.

Getty image by Jose Luis Pelaez.

Originally published: July 26, 2022
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