When someone you love is diagnosed with cancer, you may suddenly feel helpless and unsure of what you can do to help. You may feel awkward and uncertain of how to approach your loved one, but remember, people in cancer treatment do better when they have strong support from family and friends. So get familiar with what they're going through and try to figure out what you can do to help. This will enable you to support them through treatment in the most beneficial ways possible.
Listening to your loved one is one of the best ways you can provide support. The American Cancer Society recommends taking cuesfrom the person instead of just assuming they want to talk. Respect their need for privacy if they seem hesitant about sharing their feelings. On the other hand, some people will really want to talk about their illness. In this case, it's important that you just listen instead of offering advice, judgment, or even cheers of encouragement. Never offer unsolicited medical advice or talk about other people's experiences with cancer unless they ask. Don't be afraid to tell them how you feel as long as it doesn't undermine the patient's experiences.
If you're not living with the person, make a point to keep in touch throughout their treatment. Many cancer patients notice friends and loved ones stop calling after the initial diagnosis and begin to feel isolated. Remember that you're a valuable part of their support network! Make short, regular visits and always mention the next time you'll come by.
When you start to understand what your loved one is going through, you can have a better idea of what exactly you can do to help.Gathering information for your loved one can be huge in helping them make informed decisions. They may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to sift through to make decisions in a short amount of time. Conducting internet research and condensing the information for the patient can make a big difference. Just remember not to give them advice unless they ask you for it. Also, be sure to learn about the different types of cancer treatment from the National Cancer Institute so you know what to expect for your loved one and how to best help them through side effects.
It's important to be mindful of your loved one's painkiller usage as well. Though painkillers provide necessary relief to cancer patients, they also come with the potential for addiction. People most at risk of painkiller addiction are those that have struggled with addiction in the past. If you’re concerned, talk to the patient’s doctor.
According to Prevention, you should avoid saying things like "let me know if there's anything I can do." While this sounds like a nice gesture, it actually puts the person with cancer in an uncomfortable position. They have to figure out what you can do to help and then feel like a burden having to ask you to do it. Instead, try offering some concrete form of help. For example, offer to make a meal for their family, drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or babysit their children. Some people may just need a treatment buddy to go with them to chemotherapy sessions. It also helps to pinpoint useful gifts and gestures from humorous presents to lotion for dry skin from chemotherapy.
If your spouse is the cancer patient, try taking the initiative by tackling chores, cooking, and other tasks they usually do. It’s also helpful if you act as the family spokesperson, talking to concerned friends and taking phone calls from doctors. This allows your partner rest and focus on healing.
Helping a loved one with cancer can be difficult. It’s important that you take care of yourself and find ways to deal with your own emotions. Make time to relax, eat healthy, and exercise. There is no shame in this. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of others. Your loved one will understand and appreciate any and all support that you can provide.
Scott Sanders is the creator of CancerWell.org, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. He is also the author of the book Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment.