It can be devastating to learn that a friend or a family member has cancer. After you hear the news, it’s natural to wonder how you can best offer your support. We’d like to offer some tips for supporting anyone you care about who’s going through cancer treatment.
1. Be careful about what food you offer
Offering to bring food to someone who’s going through cancer is a very common impulse, and it can certainly be very helpful to take the burden of cooking off of the person with cancer. However, it’s important to remember that people who are going through cancer treatment often have significant restrictions on what they can eat. They may need to be very careful with food so that they don’t get an infection or interfere with the effectiveness of their chemotherapy.
If you’d like to bring food, make sure that you ask about any dietary restrictions first. If you’re the one setting up a meal train, inform the whole group about what is and isn’t safe to bring.
2. Ask before you visit
When you’re in the hospital or recovering at home, it can be wonderful to have company. At the same time, the course of illness can be very unpredictable. Ask when the person would like you to plan your visit, considering which days and times of day they usually have more energy for socializing.
Before you come, call or text and ask if the person is still up for the visit. Make sure you let them know that it’s okay to reschedule if they aren’t feeling up for it that day. A person with cancer is on a rollercoaster in terms of their energy and their emotional state, and you don’t want to create more stress by visiting when they aren’t feeling good.
3. Stay in touch
For a person with cancer, it’s nice to know that their friends and family care about how they’re doing. It’s a great idea to send your friend texts or emails from time to time, to let them know that you’re thinking of them. Make sure they know that it’s okay if they don’t text you back right away. You want to show them that you care, without creating the burden of an expectation.
While hearing from friends feels good, updating people over and over on the latest news can quickly get exhausting. It’s often nice for people with cancer to have a single place where they can share their latest news whenever they feel up to it. Some people set up a phone tree, while others prefer to use a website like CaringBridge. It’s free to set up an account, and the person with cancer can write updates that everyone connected to them can read.
4. Help with daily tasks
When you’re battling cancer, the fluctuations in your energy level can be intense. Sometimes, daily tasks can feel overwhelming. One thing that can be very helpful to someone going through this is to help out with these tasks in order to make their life easier.
For example, if you’re going to the store, you could offer to pick up their groceries too. You could also offer to clean their house, or give them a gift certificate for a cleaning service so that they can schedule that whenever they’d like. Having fewer daily tasks to attend to can be immensely helpful to someone going through cancer treatment.
5. Give thoughtful gifts
As with food, it’s important to consider the effects that treatments like chemotherapy can have on a person. Bringing flowers might seem thoughtful, but could actually be dangerous for someone whose immune system is severely compromised. Strong smells can also be very unpleasant when you’re undergoing chemotherapy, so be careful about offering scented items like candles.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t give gifts. In general, people with cancer really appreciate when someone takes the time to bring them a small gift. You could give a book or magazine, a nice journal, or some art supplies. Another nice idea is to write them a letter that expresses how much they mean to you. You can write about your favorite memories with them, and your appreciation for having them in your life. They can reread it whenever they need a little boost.