Though most of us know someone who has suffered from cancer, it can still be difficult to know how to react or help once someone you love is diagnosed. While we all want to act with the best of intentions in a difficult situation, words can be difficult to find. How do you stay reassuring and strong? When are you saying too much or when are you not saying enough?
We recently sat down with Lisa Brambilla-Doble, a breast cancer survivor and creator of Survivor Eyes. She opened our eyes to some of the difficulties cancer patients can face. As a result, we looked further into what friends and family can do support those they love who are going through a difficult battle with cancer.
Of course, a person battling cancer is going through a major emotional event. In addition, there is new information for them to learn including treatment options, procedures to undergo and how to deal with the symptoms of their treatment. As their body fights the disease and copes with the treatment, they will be exhausted. So when they are up for it, one of the best things a friend can offer is an ear to listen. Be wary of providing advice or stories of “a friend who had this certain kind of treatment that worked.” Listen deeply and intently to what you friend is going through.
- Connect them with others, if they want
That being said, if you do have another friend or acquaintance who has experienced a similar situation, ask the person if they would like to be put into contact. They may prefer to talk to someone who has already gone through their experience.
- Keep It Light
Cancer is a very serious ailment. Once a person is diagnosed they will be bombarded with serious conversations about the disease, treatment and procedures. Every once in a while, it might be refreshing for them to be reminded that they will kick cancer’s ass. Or make a party out of going to the salon to get a haircut, so they don’t feel as self-conscious about losing their hair. They will appreciate the break from serious talks and events to reconnect with life outside of their diagnosis.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Leave a Message
Perhaps you don’t know if you should call. You want to call to let them know you care but you also don’t want to bother. They are processing new information and probably do need some time to themselves. But that shouldn’t stop you from calling. Leave them a message and let them know that you are thinking of them but give them time and space to be able to call you back when they can.
- Rather Than Taking Meals, Take Groceries
One of your first offers to help might be to bring food. Helping to provide meals is a very kind gesture but that is likely to be everyone else’s reaction too. Some cancer patients start to feel guilty because they can’t eat all of the meals they are given and it ends up going to waste. In addition, chemotherapy might change the way food tastes changing taste buds because of chemotherapy. Take over groceries instead of prepared meals so they can use the ingredients to their taste.
While all the above are suggestions to help your friend or family member who is battling cancer, the most important thing you can do is be there. They will need support and a person who will listen to their experiences. Remember that their diagnosis does not define who they are and they will still need to be reminded of the life they lead before cancer.