My Friend Has Cancer: What Can I Do For Them?

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I have actually been asked this question semi-frequently because people want to know what we appreciated – or maybe didn’t so much appreciate – people doing for us over the past year. Here are some ideas that I think people would appreciate based on the really nice things that people have done for us recently. This list is by no means comprehensive and of course you know your loved one/friend/family member/coworker/etc the best and what they may or may not appreciate, but here are some suggestions in case you don’ t know where to start:

1. Meals
This is a huge help. Just be mindful of if the patient has any specific diet limitations or if they are receiving chemo, they may have some food aversions, so just be sure to check. Even if the patient themselves can’t eat much, the family will really appreciate the meals. We were on the receiving end of some pretty amazing meals from some really amazing people! I’m no cook, so I know my hubby LOVED it. Our friends and church family used takethemameal.com, it’s easy to set up and very user-friendly. Definitely a great option if you know they could use it.

This may sound weird, but how you word your offer to bring a meal is sometimes important too. If you really want to do it for someone and there’s no schedule set up, say something like, “I’d like to provide a meal for you, when could I drop it off?” We often feel bad putting people out, so if you just ask if we need them, we may feel guilty and just say we are ok and don’t need it, when it actually would be appreciated.

2. Books & Articles
One of the cool, yet sometimes overwhelming, parts of this are how generous people are with their resources such as books or articles on cancer, God, nutrition, etc. If you aren’t sure whether or not to give it to them, I say go for it! But just don’t follow up (unless you need the book back). When you are receiving all of these resources, it can be a little overwhelming. So just allow the patient to sort through it as they want to. If they read it, great. If they don’t, it’s really no big deal, but trust me, they appreciate you caring enough to go through the trouble.

3. Fun Stuff
When you have cancer, life can just sometimes seem very heavy. Your main reality is dealing with appointments, tests, scans, treatments, surgeries while also dealing with all of the emotional baggage that comes along with it. It can be very overwhelming and we always appreciated when people would give us something fun. As big as a vacation to Florida (thank you, For Pete’s Sake!!) or as small as a movie or crossword puzzle book. Of course, be mindful of how your friend or family member may be feeling physically and what their limitations are.

4. Visit
Make sure these are pre-planned. Part of this journey is just wanting to be alone while at the same time desperately wanting to be with people. Weird, I know. Just be prepared to listen, to cry with them, to laugh (yes, laugh!), and to just let the person vent and be normal. And please don’t take personal offense if the person is a little “off” or not talkative or whatever, just be a supportive, listening ear. Also, don’t be offended if they don’t feel up to a visit, it’s nothing personal, sometimes it’s just easier not to be around people and feel like you have to be “fake” (like happier and more upbeat than you really feel), so if they say no, just shake it off and try again another time. It’s not personal, trust me.

5. Text/Use Social Media
I know personally, I always appreciated when people would just send me a quick text maybe with an encouraging Bible verse or just letting me know they were praying for us or thinking of us. Just don’t get too caught up expecting a reply. I had some sweet friends who started a Facebook group where people could post encouraging pictures or verses or whatever. It was really nice and meant a lot, especially when things were looking particularly bleak.

6. Cards
This may seem like a small thing, or at least that’s what a lot of people wrote in cards to us, but trust me, it’s not. Everyone loves getting mail, right? And a card letting you know that you’re loved and being prayed for and thought of means a lot during these times. One suggestion I would have if you know the person maybe doesn’t have a huge support circle, would be to write an encouraging card to the person weekly. Truly, don’t overthink what to say, what you’re doing will be taken as a sweet and thoughtful gesture.

7. Fundraisers/Donations
Fundraisers take a lot of planning and effort, so if it’s something you want to do, just be ready in that regard. We were on the receiving end of some very cool, thoughtful fundraisers that have helped us immensely with medical bills. Medical bills are just always an issue, so if you have a loved one facing this, they will always appreciate any donation you can give, even if it seems small to you.

8. Cleaning, grocery shopping, rides to and from appointments, laundry…
These are things that need done, but isn’t always practical, comfortable, or even possible for the patient to do themselves.

We have some very wonderful people in our lives who set up a cleaning schedule for us so Tuesday mornings we know someone’s coming to help with the cleaning. It’s helpful to be specific and consistent. If your friend or family member lives close, just call and let them know you’re going to the store and ask if they need anything. People often said to me that they feel like they aren’t doing enough or want to help more, but trust me, this is enough!

Make sure when you call that you are clear that you don’t need to stay and chat, sometimes that is just the last thing the patient or caregivers want. Be clear that you just want to provide this service to them and don’t expect a visit, unless they want that. As odd as this sounds, this is sometimes a very relieving offer, and don’t be hurt if they take you up on it.

9. Keep Your Friendship Going
Of course this one takes some discretion on your part as it’s completely dependent on how up for this your friend or loved one may feel. I just know that I appreciated keeping my friendships that were two way. It was so nice to be able to talk to friends and hear about their lives. I personally felt sick of myself a lot so it was a relief to get to talk to friends and hear about what’s going on in their lives too.

10. Gift Basket
I heard this idea from a friend and thought it was really cute: if you know that your loved one faces long infusions for chemo (some people’s infusions take hours!) maybe put together a little basket or bag of goodies for them to take along on infusion days! You know your loved one best, so just add whatever you know will make them smile. Books, magazines, snacks, whatever!

And this one is super important, in my opinion:
11. Check in on the support people/caregivers/spouses/kids and make sure they are ok. Based on the blogs I’ve read from caregivers and from what the people I’ve met that are traveling through this have told me, being a caregiver can be exhausting, both physically and mentally. They give and give and give, often under-appreciated and overwhelmed. Just check in on them, ask how they are, not just how the patient is doing, and how they could be helped. Maybe something as simple as getting them out of the house or hospital room for a bit could be enough to refresh them a little.

If the patient has kids, it’s a good idea to make sure they feel special/loved/supported too. Even very young children are sensitive to the changes going on around them and might feel scared or uneasy, it’s great to remember them too at these tough times. I know personally, our kids get very excited about the “anonymous” 😉 gifts that are often left in their car seats for them to get after church. (Eric and I are always pretty psyched about our gifts too, although we don’t have car seats haha)

I guess in all of this, I would say, if you’re on the fence about whether to do something or say something, just do it. A lot of people told me they were scared to reach out because they were scared to say the “wrong” thing. Unless you are an overtly rude or oblivious person, you won’t say anything wrong. We are just glad to hear from you, we aren’t picking apart what you say! I will just say, depending where the person is in their journey, maybe don’t tell them about all the loved ones you’ve lost to cancer (or whatever illness your friend may have). We know people mean well, but I just remember that being one of the things that rubbed me the wrong way. Not that your loved ones cannot be talked about if parts of their story apply, just use good judgement there.

There is nothing you can say or do to fix this, there isn’t anything that’s going to make it all better, and we don’t expect that from you, I promise.

I realize this list is definitely not all-inclusive, I was just trying to give some ideas or suggestions if you are stuck. Feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you’ve done for someone that they appreciated, or if you were the one receiving people’s kindness, let us know what you appreciated.

(And before anyone calls me out on the fact that the title is grammatically incorrect, I know. It just sounded better!)

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5 thoughts on “My Friend Has Cancer: What Can I Do For Them?

  1. Kim — I work on the Relay For Life of Norlanco. I wonder if it is possible to ‘borrow’ your latest blog.. on ‘my friend has cancer’. It is such a great list, it would be a wonderful addition to our newsletter. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Hi Kim. Once again, the wisdom you have gained through this experience is teaching everyone who reads your blog and beyond. As I was reading through this I said to myself, this sounds so much like the training we do with volunteers. Only, I love the refreshing way in which this is presented – you have such a winsome way with words.
    If it is OK with you, I would like to use this material, tweaked to fit, for volunteer training at our church.
    And, I am so rejoicing at your news. This is awesome. Everyone should be doing handsprings and cartwheels at what the Lord has done.(at least I do that in my mind) I pray we will have a celebration service soon!

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