As a cancer survivor (I had mine in 2005, the year I turned 30), I speak from personal experience. In the last couple years, I’ve also seen my mom and several friends go through their own struggles with Cancer. Here are some ideas to help you support a loved one with cancer.
1. Remember – they are still who they are. When you talk with them, don’t talk about cancer all the time and treat them like a victim. It can’t be all cancer all the time! They still need joy and fun and laughter. Let them set the pace and tone of the conversation. Some moments, they will want to talk about their struggles and other moments, they just want to remember good times and laugh about the ridiculous situations you were in long ago. I remember one night, somewhere between the timing of my surgery and my radiation, one of my college roomies called me and we talked for an hour. A few minutes about me feeling scared and her listening, and then 45 minutes of gut-wrenching laughter about the things we had done in college. That conversation is the one my mind always goes back to as the moment I felt like me again.
2. Listen – Pay attention to what they say and show them that you hear them. That means repeating back to them what you think they are saying. That may seem really simplistic, but it’s so wonderful to be on the other side of that. Sometimes when you are going through a crisis it’s tough to process your feelings quickly. It helps to have someone repeating what they think you’re saying, such as “It sounds like you are feeling really frustrated with your body right now.” Once you can identify it, you can deal with it.
3. Bring Food – Having prepared food was such a treat! I didn’t feel like cooking, and even more so, I didn’t feel like doing dishes, so having food brought to me that required no effort was amazing!
4. Send Books/Music/Journals – It’s always nice to have fuel for the soul! Sending your favorite book or songs over are a great way to give someone that fuel. And sending them either blank journals or one with prompts in another way to encourage them to put their thoughts somewhere and get them out of their head, which helps.
5. Know when to leave – I can’t stress this enough. Often, the person with cancer feels some obligation to make the visitor feel comfortable, but that’s exhausting. If they yawn, or look at the door or start to fuss about you getting a drink, ask them if they’d like to rest and give them an easy out. Never take it personally! Sometimes we are emotionally tired, sometimes we are physically tired, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with our love for our family and friends.
6. Leave Voicemails that don’t require a call back – It’s so nice to know your friends are thinking about you! It’s also exhausting to try to return calls. My favorite messages went something like; “I’m sending you lots of love! Let me know if you need anything and If I don’t hear from you I’ll assume all is awesome!” You know you are loved and supported and you don’t need to do anything if you don’t want to.
7. Be Vulnerable – There is something about fighting for your life that makes you extra sensitive to BS. So don’t fake it. If you are sad for your loved one, just acknowledge it. If you don’t know what to say, say that! The chipper, “everything is going to be fine” talk gets old. We all get scared sometimes and it’s nice to know that we aren’t alone in those feelings. I remember waking up one night in a cold sweat, wondering if I’d have time to write my 18-month-old all the different letters I’d want him to open. I’d need one for his first day of school, and graduation and his wedding…I started to freak out because I was sure I’d miss something that I’d have wished he had a letter for. I had a friend that was going through the same thing and I emailed him and he wrote back that he’d been writing letters too. It was so nice to realize I wasn’t the only one that wanted to prepare for the just-in-case situations too. The other thing is, we want to comfort you too. So allow us the chance to do that.
If you can do any of the above, you are doing great! If you have any suggestions for other things, please leave them in the comments below. Helping someone through cancer is tough, but wonderful in ways too. I’d love to hear your stories! Have a wonderful day, xoxo K
p.s. Here’s a book you may find interesting: