Most of us aren’t sure what to do when someone we know is diagnosed with cancer. We struggle to know what to say or think of ideas to help.
When caring for my grandpa while he was sick, I saw the affects of the things people did and said on him and my family. The happiness it brought us when friends and neighbors went out of their way to be kind and offer to help was immeasurable.
The most impactful were the small, thoughtful and kind things people did, like bring meals or come sit with us. You need positive support and encouragement to know you’re not alone, because a lot of the time it feels very helpless and hopeless.
So, what can you say or do to help someone who has cancer? I’ve put together a list of 10 do’s and don’ts to guide you.
A little side note first. Although I’ve done extensive research and talked with many patients, please remember that everyone is different and will respond in their own way with their unique emotions. Use these as guidelines, but above all, trust your gut and do what feels right to you and above all, for your loved one.
- Send thoughtful cards, texts, emails and whatever else lets them know you care and you’re thinking of them. Be sure to keep it positive!
- Step up to help. Instead of asking what they need you to do (because they'll say “nothing”), figure out something on your own and do it. This is as simple as bringing a meal, sending a cleaning service, offering a ride to the doctor’s or asking if they need you to get groceries. Make sure to check with them first though!
- Listen and be a comfort. Be careful not to pry and remember that they’re still a regular person who still loves all the things they loved before they were sick. Talk about all the stuff you used to talk about and let them bring up the serious stuff when they’re ready.
- Go with the flow. Things can change in an instant for people going through treatment. Be willing to adjust easily and accommodate when necessary.
- Get them a gift. There’s so many great options: blankets, pjs, fuzzy socks, chemo kits, gift cards, books, adult coloring books, etc.
- Give advice or tell stories of other people’s cancers. It’s not helpful or uplifting to hear stories of other people’s struggles. Try to keep it light!
- Say, “I understand.” Unless you’ve had the exact same cancer and treatments, then you don’t understand. This isn’t a comforting statement. Instead say something like, “I’m here for you.” And then be there.
- Get offended if you’ve sent a message and didn’t receive a response. Many times newly diagnosed people are inundated with messages. Not to mention, their head is spinning with their new diagnosis and all the things that go along with it. Naturally, things can get lost in the shuffle. Know that they are grateful for you and your message and please keep sending them.
- Post about their diagnosis on social media. This should be a given, but it’s not your place to post anything, anywhere at any time. Unless you’re instructed by the patient to do so, it is their life and their right to privacy. Keep it classy and know that it’s not ok.
- Talk in hushed tones and/or cry around them. Attitude is everything and the last thing anyone needs is to comfort their visitors. Instead, keep your words, thoughts and actions positive. Show your loved one you can be supportive in this way too.
Navigating a cancer diagnosis isn’t easy for anyone, especially the patient. So, let’s do our best to make their life easier and better. It’s my hope that these tips will do just that!