What to know about supporting cancer patients – Cancer affects all of us. Whether you are a mother, father, sister, brother, husband, wife, friend, grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, or coworker- we all know someone who has or has had cancer. What do you say to a cancer patient? How do you act? What can you do? Five women who have survived breast cancer sat down with us to discuss how best to support cancer patients, sharing their experience and knowledge to help guide those supporting a loved one through their cancer journey.

Ginger shared with us the best advice she ever received from a friend who had battled cancer, “People will ask, what can I do for you? The best way to respond is by asking, I don’t know, what can you do?” As a cancer patient you are overwhelmed trying to figure out what you need to do, that you can’t process what someone else can do for you. Ginger suggests cancer patients make a list of the things you would like someone to do for you, so when you get the question ‘What can I do for you’, you will know what you need and if they can provide assistance.

Sally shed light on the reality of a cancer diagnosis and eating. “My neighborhood is so sweet and good, and they all wanted to bring food. But that doesn’t work, because with cancer there is a whole new eating, you know ‘Go Green’.” This is true, it is not that these type of gestures go unnoticed, however when you are fighting a disease and your immune system is low, your nutrition habits typically change dramatically to support your overall health and well being. Probably best to check with the patient before bringing any type of food or meal delivery service.

Amy admits she has a hard time, “letting people ‘do’ for me.” As a nurse she is the one used to doing everything for everyone else. “Just asking my kids to reach a cup for me is hard,” she said. Amy isn’t in a place where she feels sick, and is leaning on her closest family and friends for help pre-chemo.

Lydia, in her humor, laughed “My toilets need cleaned, what are you willing to do?” However she shed light on what not to say to a cancer patient- Can you call me if you need anything? Explaining that the last thing she wanted to do is pick up the phone to call and ask for help, probably a similar feeling to what others experience. If you are going to do something, show up or just do. If you want to help you can’t wait on the sidelines waiting for the patient to ask.

Toni says, “it is the little things.” Her mom and daughter cleaned her house and she received gift certificates to movies. Her advice to those supporting cancer patients, “don’t tell me how you feel, just be there to listen.”

Every patient is different, however there is one thing that will remain a constant- the overwhelming task at hand, fighting cancer. Support loved ones by showing up, by listening, by sending gift certificates or gift baskets that help take their mind of the disease. Asking how to help is not enough.

Know what you can do, and do it, but keep in mind the privacy of the patient. Dropping in unannounced it not always advised. Make a phone call first.

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