By Janet Campbell
No one wants to see someone they love suffering. When a friend is going through treatment for cancer, it’s natural to want to help. At the same time, you’re likely worried about well-intended help becoming an intrusion. Where’s the middle ground?
Here are our best suggestions for helping a loved one with cancer without overstepping.
Be a Friend
Cancer treatment is isolating. Your friend’s vibrant life now revolves around doctor’s visits, and when she does have free time, she may have little energy to enjoy it.
As a friend of someone with cancer, you’re the key to helping your loved one feel supported and connected. Here are some ways you can do that.
- Visit regularly, but not for long. A 20-minute visit once a week will be appreciated more than a two-hour visit once a month, especially when coping with treatment and their therapy side effects.
- Keep in touch through phone calls, texts, and cards, but don’t take it personally if your friend doesn’t respond.
- Talk about things unrelated to cancer. A conversation about hobbies or current events is usually a welcome distraction. Only discuss your loved one’s diagnosis if she broaches the conversation. Let her take the lead, and don’t change the subject when difficult emotions come up.
- Accompany your friend to doctor’s appointments (If your facility allows). You can take notes, offer company during appointments and therapy, and give the primary caregiver a break.
- Plan something to look forward to. A few days away from everything can be incredible stress relief, and with the right precautions, traveling with cancer is safe. Stay close to home where your friend can enjoy plenty of downtime. A lunch date or dinner date is exciting too.
Give Practical Help
When you want to do more, practical help is the way to go. The key to giving practical help is to do it without any expectations. If you have limited time, find more time in your day by creating a schedule and politely saying “no” to other nonessential requests. Your friend may not have the capacity to mingle when you drop off meals or even send a thank you note, but these efforts make a difference all the same.
- Spend an hour or two once a week cleaning their house. Living in an organized and clutter-free home can help reduce stress. If possible, choose a time when your friend is out of the house.
- Take care of the lawn. Landscaping quickly falls off the priority list when dealing with cancer, but your friend will appreciate coming home to a well-kept yard.
- Drop off groceries or meals. Cancer treatment affects taste and appetite, so ask what types of food your loved one can eat before shopping. Even if she can’t eat a full meal, bringing freezer meals or takeout for spouses and kids is sure to be appreciated.
- Help with childcare by driving kids to activities or babysitting. This is a great option if you have children in the same school or extracurriculars.
- Raise money. Cancer can be financially devastating. In addition to the cost of treatment, families must deal with a loss of income when a parent with cancer has to leave work. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable giving cash gifts to friends and family, but often, money is the best form of help. Consider slipping a check into the next card you send, or to give more, start a GoFundMe. Have a garage sale with all donations going to the patients family and let your social media friends know the day and the cause!
The biggest mistake people make when they want to help a friend with cancer is saying, “Let me know how I can help.” Most people are uncomfortable asking for help — they don’t want to feel like a burden or they’re so overwhelmed they don’t know where to start. Instead of waiting for your loved one to tell you how to help, do something. Whether you do the dishes or start a fundraiser, you’ll make your loved one’s life a little bit easier.
The Judy Nicholson Kidney Cancer Foundation is dedicated to supporting kidney cancer patients and their caregivers. Make a donation to support kidney cancer awareness and education.
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