It’s strange, but it can be hard to know what to say or do when someone you’ve known your entire life is diagnosed with cancer. You want more than anything to provide comfort and be reassuring, but you also want to be careful not to say the wrong thing, or come across as insensitive. Sometimes, your loved one can take the awkwardness out of the situation; other times they have no more idea of what to say than you do. Cancer is a difficult subject, particularly when a close friend or relative is facing their own mortality. It requires love, patience and a willingness to let your loved one set the tone. In truth, there are many things you can say and do that can make a real difference
The ‘go-to’ person
Your loved one may need help letting everyone know they have cancer and keeping everyone apprised of changes in condition. They’ll also need help setting up medical appointments, running errands, and making sure kids get to and from school on time and safely. Going through chemo and radiation therapy is exhausting; having to spend a lot of time on the phone and keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities as well can be too much to deal with. Being the “go-to” person can be one of the best things you can do for a friend or relative who’s trying to cope with cancer.
Be an ‘on-call’ babysitter
Coping with cancer is considerably more difficult when there are children involved. Your loved one has to worry about how the kids are dealing with it, which adds a lot of stress to an already challenging situation. Offer to babysit for your loved one whenever needed and to make sure the children are keeping up with homework, getting to their games, have a way to get to and from friends’ houses, and making it to doctor’s appointments. This can be a valuable service to provide for a cancer patient, especially someone with limited mobility and whose cancer treatments make them sick.
Gathering information about treatment and medications and doing research about care options and insurance-related issues is also an important role that a cancer patient may be unfit for. It’s important because your loved one needs to make informed decisions about care and understand how and why doctors are taking a specific course of action. Understanding provides an important sense of empowerment as well, which can help a cancer patient maintain hope and a healthy mindset throughout the ordeal.
Your loved one will need a comforting presence nearby as treatment progresses, someone to hold their hand and keep their spirits up. It’s important to have someone to talk with, a companion to fetch water, help with trips to the bathroom, and serve as an advocate with nurses and doctors. The most important service you can provide is to help write down and remember later on what the doctor said. It’s also a good idea to have someone along who can handle the driving, which may be a big problem for someone who’s just gone through treatment.
Stress, depression and anxiety are often significant problems for a cancer patient. Meditation, yoga and quiet contemplation are excellent ways to deal with this physical and emotional roller coaster and help them reduce their blood pressure and get the sleep they need. Help your loved one set up a relaxing space at home, a cool and quiet room with no distractions, including soft lighting and pleasant aromas (add some infusers and scented candles), creating a feel-good space that fosters inner focus and concentration.
Finding out someone you care about has cancer is an emotional blow that can leave you not sure what to do or how to help. Rest assured your loved one will need plenty of help and encouragement, now more than ever. Don’t be afraid to offer help in any way you can.
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