This topic is one that’s been on my mind to write about for quite some time. As some of my readers may know, I had stage 3 cancer at age 16 and again at age 17. It was a rare type called germ cell ovarian cancer, occurring in young women. I’ve been in remission (thank the Lord!) for about 10 years.
I won’t touch on the details of my personal story now, but perhaps at a later time. For now, I’d like to just give family and friends a few practical ways to come along side and support the cancer fighter in their lives. Cancer can be a sensitive subject to approach and often I feel people can be at a loss for words in how to let a cancer patient know that they care and want to support him or her.
My memory of my treatment days is not as clear 10 years out, but I do remember specific ways I felt supported in my fight with cancer. Here’s a few ideas of how you can practically support the cancer fighter in your life:
- Continue to speak with your loved one as if they are the same person. His/her current state of health may have changed, but they’re still the same person. Often cancer patients may feel like “a walking illness” for everyone to see and inquire about, so it is so refreshing to be treated as your ordinary self, despite feeling so different. I had a friend tell me once after I lost my hair, “I don’t see Anna with cancer when I look at you, I just see Anna.” It was such a simple statement, but I will never forget it. It was one of the most encouraging things 16 year old me needed to hear. 2. Talk about things other than diagnosis, outlook, or treatment plan. Chances are, your loved one has talked about nothing else since being diagnosed-with concerned friends and family, and with their oncology team every. single. day. all. day. It can be very wearisome and discouraging to talk about such a scary, life altering event over and over and over again. Talk about what you did over the weekend, talk about a good movie you saw recently, etc. I remember being asked about how I was doing all the time and I just wanted to hear about somebody else’s life for a change or to be reminded that there was life outside of the hospital walls or my high school hallways.
3. Offer to help them out in a variety of ways…..For example:
-Make them and/or their family a meal or pick up take out and drop if off for them. It’s a welcome relief when worn out patients and their family members don’t have to worry about cooking, especially after all the travel back and forth from the clinic and hospital. Not to mention that not everyone is so keen on a regular diet of hospital food. 😉
–Surprise the patient/the family by mowing their lawn while they are away during the summer months.
-If the cancer patient is feeling nauseas or having food aversions, ask if there are some things that sound settling or appetizing that you can pick up at the store for them.
-Put together a care package containing items that encourage rest, relaxation, and renewal. A pair of comfy socks, a nice lotion, favorite snacks, a “feel-good” or comedy movie, a favorite magazine, some tea, etc. Anything that would make extended hospital stays or long clinic days a little brighter would be grand as well. 🙂
-If you notice your loved one’s hair is falling out after chemo, gently take them aside and let them know. Offer to help remove the hair that is shedding, from their clothing in private. (A close high school friend of mine did this for me in the girl’s bathroom. It made me feel so loved!)
-Offer to help him/her get caught up with things at home, such as laundry or cleaning. If the patient happens to be a student, offer to help with homework. I missed a lot of school my Junior year of high school. The same friend that removed my shedding hair from my clothing, came over one afternoon to help me with my geometry. I had another friend help me with homework questions during study hall. I may not have retained all of the information they told me, but it was so reassuring to know that all I needed to do was ask and they were willing to help me.
4. Continue asking your family member/friend to go out and do fun things. Ask him/her to go out to eat with you, to see a movie, to go shopping, to go for a walk. It can really help take their mind off of their illness. Your loved one may not always feel well enough to participate, but keep asking. It’s so good to know you’re not forgotten, even when you’re away for regular treatment. A friend asked me to go out for Chinese with her soon after I got out of the hospital after my first major surgery. It made me feel like a “normal” 16 year old girl again!
5. Offer to pray for them in person. Such an encouraging experience to know someone is seeking the Lord on your behalf.
6. Be a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. Even if it’s hard…even if it’s uncomfortable. Speaking from personal experience, a cancer patient may feel like no one really understands what they’re going through or how they feel. Anxiety, fear, and/or depression can easily set in. Don’t be afraid to come alongside your friend during this season. They need your support now, perhaps more than ever before.
7. Send cards! Snail mail unfortunately is not as common as it used to be, but it brought so much joy to my heart when I received a handwritten card of encouragement while away at the hospital. Having cards to display on a hospital room window sill or walls can be a fun visual reminder that you are loved, cared for, and being thought of/prayed for.
8. Visit your loved one at home or in the hospital. It may be a good idea to check if he/she is feeling up for a visit first, but what better way to let someone know you care than checking in with them in person?! Getting visits in the hospital in particular did so much to brighten my spirits!