A friend of mine was recently diagnosed with cancer. This is never an easy thing to hear, but in the midst of a pandemic, it can be especially overwhelming. In the past 5 years, I’ve had many people reach out to me after a friend or loved one was diagnosed. They want to know what they can do to help their loved one. I don’t feel like an expert. I don’t have a medical or psychology degree. I’ve written about it before but it’s a good reminder. And, if you’re willing to share this post, it might help someone else too.
For the person diagnosed: This is scary. It doesn’t matter who you are. When you hear those words, your heart stops. The doctor may sound like the teacher from the Peanuts cartoon show “wa wa, blah blah blah.” You can’t process those things. It’s all going to be a blur. Here is my humble advice. some of it I did and some I wish I would have.
- Get a notebook. Take it with you to each appointment or treatment. Keep it in your purse or by your bed to write down questions- you will have a lot of them and you will forget 90% of them when you walk in the doctor’s office. Write down what the doctor or nurse says. It’s super helpful.
- It is not your job to give people a “to do list.” People will say, “Let me know how I can help.” If you do think of something, great… but do not feel like you have to give a list or task to everyone. Also, some people just say that and don’t really mean it.
- It is your job to accept help. This takes pressure off of you and lets your loved ones feel like they are contributing to your fight. If someone close to you can let people know what you need, it’s up to them to figure out the ‘how.’ My mom, sister and nieces came to clean my house before I started treatments. It was great. I’ll have some ideas for the helpers below. Just know you can and should accept help. It does not make you weak, it allows you to focus on getting better.
- Find someone who does Reiki or Healing Touch. I learned about this later, but it’s really good, helpful and soothing. Also, yoga Nidra is like a deep relaxed state – not the yoga you’re thinking of. It will help keep you calm during treatments and ease some anxiety.
- People around you will not know what to say. Some will fall away and you won’t hear from them. Others will show up at your door with a hot dish and a smile. I wasn’t prepared for the people who ignored me. I’m sure they were uncomfortable and they didn’t know the right words, but it was surprising. It’s ok. Focus on you, your health and recovery.
- There will be expenses you aren’t prepared for. Even insurance companies who seem good will deny coverage for strange things. Accept financial help. It will ease some burden and worry. It’s also an easy way for people to help and support you.
- Scan-xiety is a real thing. It’s also something they don’t prepare you for. You will likely be anxious or moody before a scan or test. It’s ok to talk about it. The Reiki/breathing techniques do help, but it’s still a real thing years later. It does get better!
For the people looking to support the patient, here again is some humble advice.
- Just do something. Don’t wait around for the perfect thing to do – just reach out. Send a card, letter, gift card or care package. They will appreciate it, but they might be overwhelmed or exhausted & not get a thank you note sent.
- Instead of asking what you can do, offer options. “I’d like to bring dinner on Tuesday. Does that night work for you? Would hotdish or meatballs be better?”
- Ask if you can set up a Meal Train. It’s a great way for people to sign up for meals. The recipient can state how many people to feed, if there are allergies or foods they don’t like. Keep in mind, if someone is going through chemo, their tastebuds will be different. They may have family or caregivers though who still need to eat.
- Care package ideas: notebooks, plain note cards, stamps, cash, gift or gas cards, books (Jesus Calling was one of my favorites), prayer blanket, movies, tea, lip balm, unscented lotion (my sense of smell went crazy and I couldn’t handle strong scents), something with meaning between the two of you, travel pillow, hard candies, water bottle, planner, comfy socks/slippers etc. I got button up pj’s for after surgery because it was difficult to raise my arms. If you know them well, make it personal & meaningful.
- Ask if there is an errand you can run for them… “I’m going to get groceries, what can I get for you?” “What day could I fill your vehicle for you?”
- This is difficult for them. Don’t make it about you. Don’t look at them like they’re broken or dying. Don’t leave them. They need your support and prayers.
- Remember the caregiver and family. This is super hard on them also. They are scared too. Find ways to reach out and help, distract the kids etc. (this is more challenging now but you can get creative.)
This is probably more than you wanted to know, but it’s for sure not everything. Everyone is different, with different diagnoses, different personalities, and different needs. Maybe it will help someone going through cancer, their caregivers or their loved ones. Please share it if you feel it could help someone else.
Peace be with you on your journey of enough. You are not alone, and you are worth fighting for!