10 Ways to Help a Loved One with Cancer
When someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer, you want to help, but may
be uncertain about exactly what to do. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation can consume
enormous time and energy. Here are ways to lend a hand:
- Become the point person. Serve as the central figure to coordinate
volunteer efforts. The point person not only can assign tasks and create schedules
for meal delivery, errands and childcare, but also can update others about the patient's
status. This prevents the patient from being inundated with phone calls.
- Deliver food. A patient is often too tired, weak or sick to shop,
prepare meals and clean up - not to mention feeding family members, too. Yet, maintaining
good nutrition is critical during treatment. The "point person" should find out
the patient's food preferences (or restrictions), then assign meal times to willing
caregivers. Place an ice chest by the front or back door for food drop-off, so the
patient won't be disturbed. Or, if company is desired, plan to share the meal. Avoid
creamy and rich foods; focus on lean meats, vegetables, whole grains and hearty
soups. In addition to meals, provide healthy treats, such as nuts, dried fruit,
wholegrain muffins, fresh fruit and fruit juices to supplement nutrition when the
patient isn't up for a regular meal.
- Run errands. Everyone has routine errands. Even if a patient has
time and energy, at times they may not want to go to stores and risk exposure to
infections, colds and viruses. Offer to run to the grocery store, drugstore, gas
station, dry cleaners and other regular spots.
- Perform chores. There's also a never-ending list of personal, house
and yard duties. Organize a group for housecleaning, yard work, laundry, pet care
and other essential household tasks.
- Offer childcare. Children demand a lot of care and attention, and
are often scared and confused when a parent is undergoing treatment. Helping a child
maintain a normal way of life can help ease anxiety. Offer to carpool, drive to
after-school activities or baby-sit. Invite kids to your home and provide fun activities,
such as baking or games. Take them to the movies or a special outing. This brings
some normalcy back to their lives and helps ease the guilt a parent feels from neglecting
their kids during treatment.
- Conduct research. A patient can feel overwhelmed with all the information
they need to amass and understand in order to make major decisions—often with little
time. They may need to determine which oncologists, surgeons and hospitals should
provide their care or provide a second opinion. Friends and family can conduct Internet
research through reputable and trusted cancer sites, such as this one, as well as
the American Cancer Society,
the National Cancer Institute,
and other trusted sites. Cancer survivors are another good resource, providing first-person
advice. Also consider books, magazines and other materials. Once you collect the
information, condense it for the patient, so they don't have to muddle through a
mound of paper.
- Become a treatment "buddy." Accompany the patient to doctor visits,
tests and screenings. Long hours and boredom await a patient going through treatment.
One to two-hour waits to see a doctor or receive radiation therapy are not uncommon,
and chemotherapy infusions can take even longer. Also, depending on your relationship
with the patient, it's helpful to have a second party in the exam room to take notes,
since it can be difficult to absorb everything the physician says. Finally, a patient
may be too drained to drive, so having a "personal chauffeur" for appointments is
a much-welcomed luxury.
- Send gifts. Flowers, cards, candles, bubble bath, books, magazines,
games, chocolates, pajamas, hats/scarves and anything else that's fun, humorous,
comforting and delicious can perk up a patient – particularly when they are feeling
- Offer companionship. If a patient is up for company, take time
to visit one-on-one. Do something fun, like shopping or seeing a movie. Take a walk
together. Have tea. Listen to their fears and frustrations. The best thing to do
for someone who is suffering is to let them know they are not alone. Cancer makes
people feel isolated from the rest of the world. It removes someone from their regular
way of life. They have to face their mortality and may lie awake at night, focusing
on their fears. Letting someone know you are with them through every step of their
journey is the best comfort you can provide.
- Consider prayer. If you practice it – or know someone who does
– do it. Most patients appreciate knowing they are on a prayer list. Cancer brings
up fear of the unknown – and the inevitable. Letting someone know you are praying
for them conveys they are cared about and are not alone.