When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I had no idea how it would change my life. Writing a Caring Bridge update and then a regular blog has opened me up for questions. I get asked from friends, relatives and acquaintances about how they can help their newly diagnosed cancer friend. I am honored to answer such questions. I know everyone’s journey is different and not everyone appreciates the same things I do. I hope I am able to give some good advice and perhaps spark some joy for those who are traveling a scary path.
Here are some things I frequently tell people when I’m asked, “what can I do?!”
- Reach out to them in some way.
- Send a card or note – it doesn’t have to be big. (I kept all of the cards and notes)
- Journals or notebooks are helpful. There are lots of Dr appointments, things to remember or record. They may also want a journal to chronicle their journey.
- Start a meal train to make sure they don’t have to worry about supper.
- Support their family – their spouse/partner or kids. (Take the kids somewhere fun or just drive them to events, if needed.)
- Offer to do their grocery shopping, laundry or cleaning.
- Give some gift cards to the family.
- Offer a massage certificate.
- Tell positive stories about survivors.
- Give a good book, one you’ve enjoyed – it doesn’t need to be new.
- Hug or touch them, if appropriate. Cancer isn’t contagious.
- Pray intentionally for and/or with them.
- Don’t tell them stories about people who died. They do not need to know about your neighbor’s aunt who had the same thing and died in 3 weeks.
- Please don’t ignore them. This is hurtful. The people who left me during cancer were not really my friends.
- Don’t ask them to “let me know what I can do to help.” They do not need to find a to-do list for you. They are seriously just trying to get by. I know people mean well by this, but it’s one of the least helpful things (in my opinion).
- Don’t tell them, “I was going to stop by/call/do something etc.” This tells them you thought about it for a minute but you really weren’t worth their time. Sometimes it’s because they wanted to do the perfect or huge thing and didn’t get around to it.
- Please don’t judge how the spend their time or money. You probably don’t know their whole story.
- Don’t look at them like they are about to die. They can see the “oh this must be so difficult” look on your face.
- Don’t tell them it’s karma. (Seriously, someone said this to me.)
Some people love the word survivor, while others find it annoying. Some choose to go through their journey quietly, not wanting people to know. Everyone is different… but hopefully this gives you some ideas of what helped me. This applies to many situations, not just cancer – anyone who is struggling may benefit from the list above.
Go write the note, make the call or bring the hot dish. I believe God puts people in our path for a reason, so who am I to argue with that? On your journey of enough, there will be bumps along the way. Hopefully those bumps are also learning experiences and you have someone to love and support you. Peace be with you, and your friend.