|6 Ways To Help When Someone Has Cancer|
The people who love me have made each of my cancer diagnoses easier to bear. They have helped me understand complicated medical information when I was too anxious to think. They listened to my worries, did my errands when I was too tired to move, and distracted me from my pain with funny cards. Hundreds of people have told me about how their families, friends, and co-workers helped them manage the challenges that cancer brings. Here are some things you can do.
1. Acknowledge our situation.
When you know that we have cancer and you don’t say anything about it, we feel even more isolated and alone. Some people—even family members—are uncomfortable saying anything. They fear that raising the topic is too personal or will make us cry. Believe me, much more harm is done by keeping silent. Just say, "I hear you have had some bad news. I am so sorry. I hope things go well for you." It will mean a lot.
2. Offer help only if you can deliver.
When others first hear we have cancer, many say, "I'll do anything I can to help." That’s a kind response, because we often really do need help. But we may find it difficult to ask. We may be too distressed to know what we need. Others need less help at the beginning and more as treatment progresses. If you offer aid, be specific: "Can I bring you dinner on Tuesday?" or, "Can I drive you to your chemotherapy appointments?" Only make a commitment if you can deliver. We are depending on you. And remember: Sometimes simply chatting over a cup of tea or quietly holding our hand is what we need.
3. Guard our privacy.
Being treated for cancer means that any sense of physical privacy we had has evaporated as we parade around in backless hospital gowns, poked and prodded from all sides. Help us to regain some small shred of privacy and control by not talking about how we are doing with others—even family members—without our permission. Ask us what information we would like you to share and with whom. If we are too ill or too young or too confused to tell you, let your past experience with us and your good judgment guide your discretion.
4. Listen to us.
America is a relentlessly upbeat society: "Keep a positive attitude! Don't give up hope!" But many people with cancer swing between hope and fear, optimism and despair. A hospital chaplain told me about meeting a couple on their way to a chemotherapy appointment for the wife's breast cancer. The chaplain asked how they were doing, and the husband volunteered, "She's doing great! She is going to be fine!" His wife turned to him and said, "You know, you always say that, and then at night you go to sleep, and I lie there, and I'm so frightened and sad—and I don’t have anyone I can talk to about it."
5. Remember that hope is a gift.
We don't always feel it. When you insist that we be hopeful and positive, we feel we have failed when we aren't. Don’t cut off the possibility that we will share our burden with you and the opportunity to support us through hard times.
6. Ensure our dignity.
Dignity is the public recognition of our self-worth. Cancer and its treatment often make us feel like we have been reduced to just a diseased body, with little to offer to those we love. Remind us that we are beloved mothers and sons and sisters and grandfathers; that we are valued work colleagues and neighbors. Reassure us that we bring to this challenge the wisdom that comes from overcoming difficulties great and small.
Some say that having cancer is like climbing a steep mountain. No matter how much you love a person with cancer, you can’t climb the mountain for us, though you would like to. But you can make sure that we have nutritious food. You can help us find path markers and steady us when we stumble. And when our spirits sag, your patience, love, and respect can encourage us to take the next step—and then the next one.