Show support. Be there with compassion and understanding, but put your desire to help aside to allow your friend time to reach a healthier state of mind. The first few weeks and months after diagnosis are often a blur for families. Remember that every family is different and that it is important to ask the family how they would like for you to be involved. Always assure the family that you are there to help them in any way that you can. It is also helpful to develop a list of things that you can do in case they cannot think of anything.
Help establish a method of communication. You can offer to be the person who gets on the phone to friends and gives updates. You can create a blog, Web page, or e-mail list where friends and family can go to for information. This is a valuable tool for a patient who may not have the energy to speak with everyone.
Inform yourself. Learn about the patient’s diagnosis and treatment via the Internet or library. Do your homework and you will be doing her a favor. A good resource is the American Cancer Society Web site, which explains topics from what is cancer to diagnosis and treatment at http://www.cancer.org/.
Prayers and positive thinking. Don’t be afraid to offer up a word of prayer for your friend. Regardless of her spiritual practices, she and her family will appreciate your prayers. You can also send e-mails and cards with positive thoughts and understanding. If she’s unable to reply right away, remember that she might not have the energy to do so.
Visitation. Please be considerate of your friends’ feelings. If she requests that no visitors come by the hospital, then please don’t go. However, if she does request that you come and see her, please do. She will be happy to see your smiling face.
Children and other family members. No matter what you do always remember that all family members need TLC too. It is very important not to disregard children. Their young minds can only comprehend the fact that mom/grandma is sick, yet they yearn for attention. You should also remember that older family members need support as well. You could offer to stay with the patient’s parents, take them out for coffee, or even be an emotional outlet for a sister or brother.
Daily life moves forward. Daily tasks such as preparing meals, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, and carpooling the kids can be done by organizing a pool within the neighborhood to disperse these various tasks among the neighbors.
Time is precious. Due to the stresses of a family member with cancer, marriages can often become strained. Perhaps you can buy a gift certificate to a restaurant, babysit if needed, or buy a night at a local hotel for a couple to escape their stress for an evening. All of these things can help a couple become reconnected during such a stressful time.
Keep them busy. During this process you spend a great deal of time waiting — in the doctor’s office, in the infusion room, etc. You can send over some great books, good articles, help her get her computer set up for wireless Internet, find puzzle books, or buy her a journal, all of which will help pass the time.
Organize paperwork. If you are great with paperwork, one big task that often is very overwhelming for families is the insurance paperwork and bills. You can offer to come in once a week and organize them for her in binders and if you, and she, are comfortable with it.
Donate blood or platelets. Cancer patients often need blood or platelets transfusions. If you are unable to donate your own blood or platelets, don’t get discouraged because you can still help. You can organize and gather other people who are able to donate which is very helpful to the family.
Aiding financially. The bills that arrive as a result of cancer treatment create a huge strain on a family’s finances. You can help by gathering a group of friends together and organizing a fundraiser and then buy gift cards to the local grocery store. Even $20 gift cards can buy milk and laundry detergent. Every little bit helps.
Talk about something else. Always acknowledge the patient’s struggle, but she may want to hear about what is going on in your life. She does not need you to solve everything for her, but may just need you to talk to her about some great movies, the news, or what’s happening in the world today.
Cancer doesn’t end once active treatment is over. Like most crisis situations, many people are there in the beginning and once things calm down they are nowhere to be found. Be there to listen for what happens after treatment. That is an important role you can play for a friend.
Most of all, recognize that anything you do, whether it be large or small, can only help a friend in a time of need. That is truly a gift that she will need as she goes through her illness.
Originally printed in the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) Connection newsletter. Advice adapted from http://www.squirreltales.com/