Getting a diagnosis of cancer is one of the hardest situations most of us will ever have to face. In the U.S. alone, about 1.7 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2018, and more than 600,000 will die from the disease. Treatment is possible in many cases, but it requires the full concentration of the patient and their family. If you have a family member or loved one facing cancer treatment, here are few ways you can help through a difficult time:
One of the best things you can do is simply to be present with your loved one. Don’t worry right away about what to say or do – just let them know they are not alone. You will want to fix everything, but you can’t, so just offer them your emotional and spiritual support. Be someone they can be themselves around. The right things to say and do will eventually come, but first be there for them.
Think Before You Speak
That said, as you begin to spend more time with your loved one, think before you speak. Follow their lead – if they feel like talking about everyday things, go with it. If they need to talk about how they feel, be a listening ear. Don’t make it about you (unless they ask you about your life) and don’t minimize their experience. You don’t know if it will be “fine,” for instance, and calling it the “good cancer” can make it seem less serious. Don’t try to tell them how to feel or act – this is their experience and you don’t know how it’s affecting them. Simply be a friend and learn to read their mood to determine what they need.
Several practical efforts will make a huge difference to your loved one as well. They will likely have lots of offers of help, but it’s hard to coordinated all the details from a sick bed. You can be the point person for all volunteers – if anyone wants to help, you can direct them to the most needed task. This works especially well if you have a gift for organization. Some areas where friends can help the most include:
- Food. Create a schedule on a meal registry site where people can sign up to bring meals for the family. These can be home-cooked or from a restaurant for convenience.
- Chores. Home tasks will naturally take a backseat during cancer treatment. You can arrange for help with yard work, house cleaning, laundry, odd jobs and more.
- Childcare. If your loved one is a parent of small children, knowing their kids are being safely taken care of will give them great peace of mind.
- Pets. Should your loved one have a pet, offer to help with walking, feeding, playtime, grooming, etc.
Be a Buddy
If you live in the same area as your friend, you can volunteer to be a treatment buddy for them. Chemo treatments can last for several hours, so companionship can be a great way to take their mind off their situation and help the time pass more quickly. Follow their lead during this time; be ready to chat if they want to talk or simply sit with them if they feel like being quiet.
As your loved one undergoes treatment, they may be prescribed some sort of painkiller to help them manage the pain they’re facing. This shouldn’t be a problem as long as they and their doctors are mindful of their painkiller usage, but in this era of opioid addiction, you can’t be too careful, so keep an eye out for signs of opioid dependency.
These tips give you a good idea on how to begin supporting a friend or family member who is undergoing cancer treatment. As you help, remember their treatment will be a long journey. Your continued support even after the initial flurry of activity will be one of the best gifts you can give.
This article was written by Scott Sanders, He is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer.