When someone we love is diagnosed with cancer, we immediately feel moved to help or offer our support in some way, but often get stuck knowing just what to do. We fear doing or saying the wrong thing, worry about giving the family space and sometimes end up doing nothing because we’re just not sure what will be helpful during such a stressful time.
The truth is, however, that something is always better than nothing. While the family may not be able to respond or acknowledge what you’ve done, the following acts are almost always appreciated.
Send gift cards
While making meals is great for families in crisis, sometimes they get overwhelmed with all the food coming in, being able to store it and eat it in a timely manner. Meal schedules are helpful, but so are gift cards, which allow them to choose what they want, when they want it. Gift cards for gas, groceries or a cleaning service also come in handy.
Offer to run errands
While it may feel like the world stops when cancer is in the picture, there’s still a need for toilet paper, the dog to be walked, prescriptions to be picked up and so many other daily chores. Offer to do their errands as you do yours.
Do work around the house
Offer to clean the house, do yard work or other basic home maintenance chores. Organizing lawn mowing, gardening or snow shoveling can be a huge help to a family focused on cancer.
Help with the kids
If the friend has children they’re likely his or her first priority. Offer to drive them to school and activities, have them over for playdates or take them on other outings to keep them occupied.
Beyond rides for the kids, offer rides to doctor appointments and treatments. Often patients will be too tired or weak to drive themselves or just like the company of having a friend drive them.
Just letting them know you’re thinking about them with a card, email or text can brighten a person’s day. Don’t forget to follow up either. While there may be an outpouring of support at the initial diagnosis, if treatments continue for a long period of time, keeping up those bright reminders of support is important. Tip: set a calendar reminder to check in and offer support or ask what they might need at regular intervals.
It’s probably not a good idea to just show up unless you’re a very close friend, but do offer to stop by. It may not always be the right time, but if and when they’re up for company, personal visits can be a great way to boost their spirits.
Send thoughtful gifts
Small, thoughtful gifts can be a nice distraction. Some ideas include silly socks, a pretty bracelet, a good book, a gift card for a manicure or massage, a cozy blanket or a comfy pair of pajamas.
Keep the invitations coming
They may not be up for attending, but don’t leave them off the invite list for movie outings, girls nights’ or parties. Even if they can’t come, it’s still nice to be included, and sometimes they may be up for something to take their mind off the cancer.
Just be there
The most important thing you can do is to let them know you’re there for them and thinking of them even if they’re not able to respond. Make sure they know hugs, jokes and a listening ear are always there when they need them.