Being diagnosed with cancer can be one of the most traumatising news anyone may receive in their lifetime. And if this happens to a loved one or friend, it is definitely the time to show that you care. While you definitely can’t help much when it comes to the physical battle with the illness, you can definitely support him/her emotionally.
Based on my personal experience as a cancer patient, here are 11 things I think you can do to show your love to someone who is going through this trying period:
1. Be a listening ear
There are many struggles a cancer patient go through – whether it is physically dealing with side effects of treatments that make him/her feel horrible, or fighting emotional monsters. Sometimes, all they need is for someone to listen to them. You don’t have to offer advice – it may not be needed – all the patient want may just be a shoulder to cry on.
2. Be a companion
Does he/she need to go for a doctor’s appointment? Or perhaps shop for a wig after losing hair as a side effect from the treatment? Offer to accompany him/her so that the patient won’t feel alone.
3. Be a researcher
It can be tiring trying to explain medical procedures or anything related to the illness or treatment to another person. Partly because the patient is probably asked many times about it, and also because the last thing a patient may want to do is to talk excessively about being ill. Questions like, “What side effects do you suffer from when you go through chemotherapy?” can be annoying, so don’t put the patient through it. Take the initiative to read up about his/her condition and the treatments associated with it. I know I appreciate it whenever someone shows that he/she is concerned enough to find out more about my condition in order to understand me.
4. Be a cheerleader
Just like how a basketball team needs cheerleaders to rev up its spirits, a cancer fighter needs his/her cheerleaders to keep going. An occasional “You’re doing great! We’ll go for that Europe trip we’ve been talking about when this period is over!” is definitely a great morale-booster.
5. Be a smart gifter
If you want to get a gift for the patient to cheer him/her up – good on you! But first, find out if there’s anything to avoid. Many chemotherapy patients, for instance, may have to avoid pollen grains during treatment. As such, while flowers and organic raw honey may sound like great gifts to any other patient, they may not be the best for them. Some fantastic and probably “safe” gifts you can consider are: cute, humorous or inspirational books, or an entertainment gadget (e.g. an iPod that he/she can listen to music with while going through treatments).
6. Be an errand-runner
The patient may feel tired to run certain errands and will definitely feel loved if someone would do them for him/her. Offer to pick up the patient’s children, chauffeur him/her to his medical appointment, or to do the laundry. Small gestures can say a lot.
7. Be a sweetie
Let the patient know that he/she is on your mind. It can be as simple as sending a text that says “Hey, I thought of you today – sending you positive vibes throughout the day!” I remember being really touched when a colleague sent a random text that says: “We went to a new restaurant for dinner today and it was really good. Let’s go there together when you recover!”
Some of my friends also buy me ginger, mint and lemon grass teas because these are known of pique appetite (for days when I lose appetite), another bought me a really good juicer so I can enjoy fresh fruit juices at home, and I also received an air purifier because “just in case the haze comes” (it did, and the purifier is the most helpful!)
8. Be a romantic
Everyone loves surprises – give one, or many, to the patient! My family takes turns to buy me a small gift after every chemotherapy session as a “reward”. A friend came all the way to my house, hang a book she bought at my door close to midnight and left. These may be small gestures but it distracts the patient from the illness and also make him/her feel special.
9. Be the caregiver’s cheerleader
Don’t forget about the patient’s main caregiver, who is probably also going through a stressful period. The patient can sometimes feel guilty for putting someone through it, and how you can help is to show kindness to the caregiver. A friend who visit me regularly sometimes offer to buy food for my caregiver, and that’s a nice gesture that I really appreciate.
10. Be sensitive
Don’t ask questions like “What happened?” when you find out a loved one is diagnosed. He/she is probably wondering about the same question. Cancers often “happened” without a “reason”. Anyway, why would you want someone going through a trying period to relive the whole episode? The patient should probably focus on the future – going for treatments and recovering.
Offering unnecessary advice like, “You shouldn’t have spent so much time stressing over work” or making comments like “Oh dear! Are you going to lose all your hair?” are inappropriate too. (FYI, I’ve received all of the above comments several times. People say things like this.)
Instead, simply tell the patient “I can never understand what you’re going through, but I really hope you’ll do fine.” Then, let your actions do the talking. Oh, a hug or a squeeze of the hands can be more powerful than any words, just so you know.
11. Be a marathon runner
By this, I mean to follow through the entire journey. It is normal for well-wishers to all rush in at the start of the crisis, but many lose steam after that. The last thing you want the patient to think is that you only cared at first because it was a “novelty”. Check in with the patient from time to time – don’t make him/her feel that people got “tired” of him/her “still sick” and going through treatments. All you need to do is to give a call, send a text or visit from time to time, to show that you care.
Daily Vanity is publishing a series of articles related to breast cancer awareness in October. Read more here.