Making someone's day fighting cancer with a simple random act of kindness – it could mean more to them than you think.
Do you remember when you learned a loved one or a friend was diagnosed with cancer? You hear the news and at the same time, you have this utterly helpless feeling. You are not sure what to say or do.
Here are some of the acts of kindness I received from loved ones and friends through my breast cancer journey which enabled me to better understand the type of support I needed.
1. Stay Connected.
Cancer in our loved ones can force us to look at our own fears about illness, weakness, and death, which can make us reluctant to reach out to the affected person. At the same time, we might assume that the person with breast cancer or cancer needs space, feels too tired, or is consumed with treatment and isn't able to keep in touch with everyone. These instincts can be very isolating for a person with cancer.
Call them, send them a text or a card to let them know you’re thinking of them.
The most meaningful and helpful things are little, like listening. If you’re not sure how to start the conversation, it’s fine to say that too.
It’s okay to say you’re feeling awkward. It’s okay to say, “This is so hard. I don’t know what to say.’” It’s a way to acknowledge the situation rather than pretend it’s not happening.
In our desire to connect, we might be tempted to share a breast cancer story about a friend, or a friend of a friend, or even another relative. In the hope that our story will bring hope, or offer new information, we actually hijack the focus from our loved one and shift it to someone not even present. Remember: every individual is different and so is every diagnosis and treatment plan.
Be sure to ask thoughtful questions about their experience and actually listen to their answers.
3. Remember He or She Is More Than Cancer.
While it's supportive to check in and ask about diagnosis and treatment, remember to see the person beyond the cancer, too. Make sure that conversation also naturally shifts to other topics of interest, and don't stop sharing about your personal life, either.
Acknowledge the disease and ask informed questions, but don't let it take up all the airtime. He or she is more than cancer.
4. Offer Specific Help.
When we tell someone with cancer, "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help…" in an open-ended fashion, we might just be adding to their to-do list.
In my experience it's most helpful when people know what they have to offer. Check in with them first, and go for it. You may need to offer multiple times before she/he is open to your help. Here are ideas that might be helpful:
Ask for a grocery list or if there are any errands you can run.
Help make life normal for children with play dates and helping them get to and from school and activities.
Send cards, letters, and care packages with distractions, comforts, and favorite treats!
Raise money for treatment and supplies, if needed.
Walk or run a race in their honor.
Offer to organize a meal delivery schedule.
Give rides to and from treatment appointments.
Offer to attend appointments and take notes or just to keep them company.
Help with chores around the house: laundry, clean, do yard work, pet sit, etc.
Plan a party before treatment, when treatment is over, or on an anniversary date.
Offer to set up a group text, or group e-mail, or social media page to keep friends and family in the loop throughout treatment.
5. Help Navigate Hair Loss.
Many women have a difficult time when their hair starts falling out. All of a sudden, there is this outward symbol for how out of control they feel in their body. Not been able to keep their hair and no longer hide their diagnosis from the world it brings the feeling of now - "I look sick."
Find ways to help your loved one or friend make the most of her new look, whether it be with wigs, headscarves, favorite clothes, lipstick, or even awesome earrings. Send them a ray of sunshine. Offer genuine compliments, and make sure that some have nothing to do with her hair.
6. Lay Off the Pressure.
In our attempt to be supportive, we can put undue pressure on our loved one who is battling cancer. "You're so brave," or "you're so strong," or "you are so inspiring" - sounding familiar? While these are important affirmations, they may also make your loved one hesitant to be vulnerable with you—as though they have to be strong all the time.
Balance your motivational comments with reassuring them that it is okay to be negative, silent, and withdrawn if that is how she or he is feeling. Don't need to urge them to "be strong" if they aren’t feeling up to it.
7. Don't Forget About the Caretakers.
We can be so focused on the affected person that we forget about those closest to him or her. Often caregivers neglect their own needs because they are so busy taking care of their loved one, and they can become isolated and stressed. Lend a helping hand to the caregiver, like asking if you can stay with your loved one so that the caregiver can have some time to himself or herself.
Keep in mind that everyone with breast cancer or any other type of cancer is going to need and want different forms of support. Be curious, inquire, and listen well to how best to support him or her amidst the many unknowns of cancer. Remember… One kind word or act can change someone’s entire day.
Joy & Peace,
Are you living with cancer, a survivor, or a caregiver? What advice do you wish had been shared with your community of friends during your experience? What was the most helpful thing that someone did for you or a loved one during cancer treatment? Share with us in the comments section below.