In life, the support of friends and family is invaluable. One of the toughest challenges you can experience is knowing that your loved one has been struck with cancer. This life-threatening illness can be devastating, regardless of the outlook. More often than not, the people around the patient tend to struggle to figure out what they can do to help after hearing the news.
In her book Two Women 1Disease about caring for her mother who dealt with cancer, Beth Pauvlinch said various gestures, no matter how insignificant, can go a long way for someone who is living with the disease. Encouraging words and small actions can mean more than you think. If you’re in a similar situation, there are little ways you can support a loved one who is battling cancer.
Educate Yourself About Cancer
Not all things you’ve heard about cancer may be true. In fact, many people still believe in cancer myths that may be putting them and their loved ones at risk. Reputable health organizations like cancercare.org have helpful literature and user-friendly websites that provide detailed information about cancer, its treatment, side effects, and other related concerns. Finding out what you can about your loved one’s condition allows you to understand their struggles better. This way, you can offer the right kind of help.
Volunteer For Specific Tasks
Some side effects of cancer treatment include weakness and pain, making it a challenge for the patient to do normal tasks around the house. Stepping up to tackle various chores may help your loved one keep their mind at ease. Make specific overtures, such as taking over family carpool responsibilities, offering to drive to chemo or other appointments, host playdates for children, or organize meals for the weekend.
Danielle Calvano from the White Plains Hospital Center for Cancer Care in New York advises that if you offer aid, check your availability and make sure to follow through. It can be disheartening if the person feels as if he or she is inconveniencing you.
Celebrate The Wins Along The Way
Undergoing cancer treatment can be an emotional rollercoaster that includes living with side effects, waiting for test results, and possibly going through a number of surgeries. Erika Hauer, who has survived breast cancer and has become an ambassador for Humanly, said that celebrating little milestones can make the journey more endurable.
Getting through chemotherapy, undergoing a mastectomy or breast removal surgery successfully, and many other victories that move the patient a step closer to recovery are things to be thankful for. Instead of being sad and alone about what they are going through, be there for your loved one and celebrate life.
Accompany Them To Their Appointments
Most people living with cancer forget half of what their doctor has told them during their oncology visit. Therefore, it is advised for a loved one to accompany the patient and be their eyes and ears during the meeting. This can go a long way in helping to make sure the patient fully understands what the doctor is saying.
Marlon Saria, an assistant professor and advanced practice nurse researcher at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in California, advises concerned friends or relatives to ask the newly diagnosed patient if they need someone to accompany them. By being there, you can help absorb the information being relayed by the providers. You can also take note of details about support services that are available to address the patient’s needs.
Encourage Healthy Habits
Some cancer patients tend to avoid eating and drinking due to nausea or other side effects of chemotherapy, explains Dr. Raanan Berger of Belong.life. He said that you can help out by gently reminding your loved one to keep sipping fluids even when they’re feeling nauseous and by making sure that their favorite foods are easily accessible.
Founder of the lifestyle site Cancer Fashionista, Melissa Berry, suggests making a warm, soothing meal like a stew or a hearty soup to help with their appetite. “There is nothing better than a home cooked meal,” she said.
If you’re thinking about bringing meals to a person with cancer, consider having them in containers that do not have to be returned. It feels great to receive meals but trying to figure out how to return the dishes could be a little stressful for the patient.
Give Advice Only When You Are Asked
Friends and relatives often take on the task of researching the diagnosis, clinical trials, and treatment options of the cancer. While this can be very valuable, the information tends to get overwhelming. It will not help to say, “You should do that” or “You ought to try this.” Just inform them that you’ve done some research and allow them to decide if they want to know more.
Keep Things Normal
The last thing most people living with cancer want to deal with is being treated like they’re so fragile that you can’t be yourself around them. It’s crucial that you continue to engage with them as you did before their diagnosis. Maintain a sense of normalcy in your relationship as possible – this is what most cancer survivors advocate. Don’t walk on eggshells. Instead, joke, laugh, and even challenge the person from time to time. This will help them live as normal a life as possible and not have to think about their illness all the time.
Stay Connected When Treatment Is Over
If you’ve been deeply involved in your friend’s fight against cancer, don’t lose contact once they have beaten the illness. While they may no longer need help getting through treatment, your emotional support is still valuable.
There are different ways people process the news of a cancer diagnosis. Some may want to talk about new types of treatment and get help with every step of the way. Others want to be treated the same and not focus on how they are sick. Perhaps the best way to help is to support how they feel at that moment and go with the flow.