“You have cancer.” I have heard those words twice in the past two years. The first time I had sneaking suspicions that something was wrong, but I didn’t want to look at the possibility of cancer. It was too horrible to imagine and I couldn’t let myself go there. The second time, we were taken completely off guard by a new cancer in a different part of my body. My husband and I could only imagine the worst, and it was truly devastating. It was a miracle that I survived the first cancer, but another one, so soon after? We didn’t know what to expect, and we were a wreck.
My first appointment with a new oncologist was a month away, and I had no other information than those three, creepy, terrible words. By a miracle, my appointment was moved up by one week, but I still had little information about the status of my health. We did know the grade of my cancer from the biopsy sample, but needed more tests to determine how far it had spread. Three more procedures and specialists later, and I am still waiting.
Fun Fact: If you are unsure about the difference between a “grade” and a “stage” of cancer, I can simplify it for you. The grade is the rate at which a cancer grows, whether it’s aggressive (higher grade) or what I call a “lazy”cancer (lower grade), and the stage is the extent of it’s growth in the body- whether it has overtaken other organs or if it’s contained in it’s place of origin. There are five stages total, with zero being the first stage where the cancer cells have not spread to any other nearby tissue.
The wait is probably the hardest part for my husband and I right now, but we have been blessed to have a support group that is waiting with us. We don’t feel so alone because they show us they care, and mainly in little ways. Here are some of the simplest ways you can support someone with cancer right now that will definitely speak volumes.
1.) Express your sympathy
Cancer can be terrifying, and someone who has been diagnosed needs to know that you care about what’s happening to them. Even if it’s just, “I’m so sorry to hear that, I really care about you and hope you will be okay,” you should express something empathetic when they get bad news.
2.) Make yourself available
Every cancer patient’s story is different, and each person has a different journey. Offering your willingness to be available to even ask for help is huge. It sends the message that, “I know you may need me and I want to help, so feel free to communicate with me about your needs.” I once told a friend who was diagnosed, “If you need anything, just ask. The worst I can do is say no, but hopefully I will say yes.” I let her know up front that I wanted to help her any way that I could, but I acknowledged the chance that I might not be able to help with everything. She ended up thanking me for my willingness and honesty. Many people expressed sentiment to her but fell short on commitment. It’s better to express your desire to help while being honest about your limitations.
You could also offer to help with specific things you know you can deliver, like prayer every day, a phone call every time you plan to be at the grocery store (to take a list of what they need) or a specific day of the week you can stop by to help with chores. A good way to know how to be there for your loved one is to imagine what you would need if you had a surgery that left you bedridden for a month, and then offer to help with those things, specifically.
3.) Send a card or a care package
This is not an expensive gesture by any means, but it will leave a lasting impression. The first time I was diagnosed, two friends brought me a ready-made dinner. One of them included a pretty kitchen towel, and the other included a cheesy-chocolate pastry that we still drool over! It meant so much to us when we thought about the effort and consideration that was put into these gifts. The second time I was diagnosed, someone dropped off a gift bag with a handmade card, balloon, three roses, and two blocks of cheese. (I love cheese.)
It was totally unexpected and felt like a giant hug! My sister sent me a piñata-gram (it’s a real thing, check it out @ https://www.pinatagrams.com/) and a box of goodies for Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing quite like going through hell and getting flowers, food, and piñatas. Here are some examples of care package ideas:
・ Fully cooked, fully assembled meals. The idea is to leave them little to nothing to prepare. It’s best to make dishes that can be eaten cold if necessary, but would be great heated in the oven or microwave. If you make a casserole, maybe you could include a bag of salad and some fresh bakery rolls. If you wanted to add extra love, you can buy disposable dishware to make clean up easier.
・ Diet/Nutrition-conscious foods. If you plan on making a home-cooked meal, it’s best to call first and ask questions about diet or nutritional limitations. Nothing stinks more than receiving a gift you really want, but can’t accept. If that’s too difficult, a grocery store gift card is perfect!
・ Dollar store happy packages. Dollar stores are… the best, and some are cleaner and better stocked than others. If you don’t know the sweet spot of dollar stores in your area, seek and you shall find! Ask your most frugal friend, they should know! Making a gift basket is so easy in these stores because everything is there! Find a nice container, basket, or bag, and fill it with things that you know will make your loved one feel special. Candles, glitter pens and journals, dinosaurs, makeup, candy, and sometimes even clothes. The sky is the limit with dollar stores!
・ Subscriptions. There are so many subscription boxes now, it’s truly an era of “shop at home for anything you fancy.” For someone going through chemo, maybe a makeup sample kit like Birchbox (https://www.birchbox.com/) would cheer them up (you can choose your favorite types of samples that get shipped once a month in a beautiful box.) There are so many subscription boxes, for men, women, children, and now even PETS! Google “subscription boxes” and choose one month, six, or a year’s worth. If that’s too expensive, you can buy your loved one a magazine subscription that will help them think of anything other than cancer- something that they love! Subscriptions are great because you put in the effort once, and get months worth of gifts out of your investment.
4.) Send texts during the week or call to say hi
Chances are, your cancer-fighter may be busy or overwhelmed, but the point is just to check in and say hi. Texts are perfect because they are minimally invasive little messages, and of course phone calls are more personal. You could ask how they are doing, or if they need any prayers for the day. You could send them an uplifting quote or scripture, or a funny meme. Or, you could just let them know you are thinking of them. 🙂 I personally like sending <<hug vibes>>. Also, try not to take it personally or get offended if you don’t get a call or text back. More than likely they have other friends and family doing the same thing. Sometimes they may need to shut their phone off and try to find peace in the moment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the effort.
5.) Offer to help with errands or doctor appointment rides
Cancer patients have doctor appointments, treatments, tests, checkups, and prescription pickups on top of their regular schedules. Things can get hectic and stressful with the extra traveling. If this is something you’d like to help with, try asking if there are any scheduling conflicts you can help with, such as picking up a kid from school or buying a small list of groceries. You could also offer to take them to a doctor appointment and drop them off at the door so they don’t have to worry about parking. Hospitals can be a pain to find close parking in, and when you feel like garbage, a little valet goes a long way.
6.) Buy them something comfortable
This could be a big sweatshirt, pajama pants, or even a blanket! There are whole websites dedicated to providing gift ideas for cancer patients, and most of them are comfort-themed! My in-laws bought me a huge, cushy blue blanket and a stuffed whale plush. I slept with that whale and blanket after both my surgeries because I was in so much pain it was hard to do anything but lay around. Those gifts were a constant reminder that I was loved and wrapped up with support. Some other great comfortable ideas: pillows, hats, cushy socks, a good book, tea or hot chocolate kits, funny movies, soft robes and slippers, or their favorite stuffed character or animal.
7.) Come work for them
I have been blessed to have avoided chemotherapy so far, but I’ve heard it described as being “the worst fatigue you can imagine.” Patients suffer from anemia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, infections, bruising, headaches, and the lovely “chemo brain.” (A “fog” that basically makes it terribly difficult to think, concentrate, remember or focus on anything.) They also deal with appetite problems, mouth sores, hair loss, numbness or pain, mood changes and to top it all off, constipation! It sounds a lot like torture to me. I can’t imagine being a single-parent dealing with chemo. How do they work? How do they grocery shop? How do they help their children with their homework, cook dinner, or do laundry? Hopefully their family and friends step up and offer help, but often daily chores are overlooked. Offer to come help do the laundry, cook a dinner, or do some light cleaning. Chemo symptoms don’t last forever, but they definitely push the pause button on housework.
There are so many other ways to be a blessing to someone during cancer! All you need to do is sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm! If you can’t come up with much, you could also do a basic google search: “how to support someone with cancer.”
Just remember, nothing is more valuable than genuine concern and legitimate effort!
Do you know of other great ideas to show support?
Share in the comments!