Thank you to Scott Sanders for providing this guest blog post. Scott is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. He is also the author of the book “Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment.”
Coping with a loved one’s cancer treatment is difficult. Often, it’s hard to know what to say or do, and it feels easier to default to avoiding the problem. However, the worst thing you can do is tiptoe around the disease, or worse, withdraw from the person completely. Cancer patients who receive support from friends and family tend to adjust to the diagnosis, and have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life. Show your love and support in whatever ways you can.
What to Say to Them
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to know what to say. Do not default to cliches, such as, “You’re so strong,” or, “You’ll be fine.” Stock phrases like this can do more harm than good. Telling them that they are strong may make them feel like they need to put on a brave face when you’re around, while telling them they’ll be fine is meaningless unless coming from a doctor. Cancer has nothing to do with their will to live; implying it minimizes their painful experience.
Instead, focus less on what to say and more on listening to them. Showing that you are willing to listen and let them share their experiences and feelings, both positive and negative, helps them feel like themselves. Conversation does not have to constantly revolve around their treatment, either. Try to make them laugh and keep them caught up on your life. The American Cancer Society recommends asking for their advice and opinions as a great way to make them feel involved and more like their old self.
Offer Practical Help
Sometimes, one of the best ways to show your support is to offer to help with everyday tasks. Reader’s Digest suggests offering to run errands for them, such as grocery shopping, picking up dry cleaning, cleaning the house, preparing a meal, or offering childcare support. Do not neglect to check in with their daily caregiver and offer them some relief as well. Taking this load off both of them will help them be better able to focus on the healing process.
If both you and your loved one feel comfortable with it, get more involved in their treatment process. You can drive them to chemotherapy sessions and sit with them while they talk to the doctor. Your presence can be helpful, especially if they are feeling exhausted. Ask questions on their behalf and pay attention to the treatment process, since they may feel too out of it to do so themselves. Stick to the doctor’s advice, and make sure they are not abusing their painkiller prescription. You do not want them to survive cancer only to wind up with a dangerous opioid addiction.
Show Frequent Support
Cancer treatment is a long process. When first diagnosed, patients often receive a flood of messages and support that fades toward the end of treatment when they need it most. Keep in mind that your loved one will need support through the entire process. Small frequent acts of support are better than random bursts of enthusiasm.
Even small gestures can be enough to show them that you are thinking of them and love them. Send them plenty of notes and gifts without expecting anything back. Schedule frequent short visits instead of sporadic, lengthy ones. And remember, cancer patients can be just as lonely on a Tuesday morning as they are around a holiday, when others have a higher chance of reaching reach out to them.
Offer Your Love & Support
If you are still feeling at a loss for how you can help them, ask – let them tell you how you can help. This is an overwhelming process for everyone, but especially for them. They will know how you can best fulfill their needs. But above all, a cancer patient needs your love and support.