10 Ways to Help a Friend with Cancer from Care.com
Candace Williams says nothing can prepare you for when your doctor turns to you and says ‘you have cancer.’ Yet, that’s precisely what happened to her in March, 2011. The 36 year-old esthetician, salon owner and mother of two didn’t fit the profile of the typical breast cancer patient. Nonetheless she faced the disease head-on, juggling everything during a year of treatment.
“Being sick was really tough for me,” she says. “My darkest hour was mid-way through the chemotherapy. I would get sick, and as soon as I started to feel better, I would have to go and get sick again.”
Williams faced challenges unique to young women diagnosed with cancer. So often, they are the youngest person in the waiting room and are surrounded by friends who have no frame of reference for what they’re going through. In addition to fertility, sex and intimacy and body image challenges, they experience isolation. Online support groups likeBrightPink.org and YoungSurvival.org can be incredibly valuable.
So often friends rally around asking what they can do. Besides pray — to whomever, and make it go away — forever, it’s hard to know how friends and relatives can help. Here are 10 ideas to help a friend battling cancer.
- Offer Specific Help
Assume that she needs you and is either reluctant to ask or unable to articulate her needs. Saying “if you need anything, call me” puts the burden on the patient. Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, a Care.com parenting expert, suggests you offer pragmatic things such as driving carpool, making dinner (Take Them a Meal is a great resource to use as you can create a schedule for the family so people won’t prepare tuna noodle casseroles six nights in a row!), doing the laundry or helping with thekids’ homework. And with her anti-bodies (and energy) at an all-time low, she’ll need a healthy meal and a clean home more than ever. See if you can find a cleaning person to work around her chemo schedule. This might be a gift a few friends can chip in on.
- Help Her Find a Great Wig
Before chemo, take her to start looking for a wig to match her hair color, texture and style. Since a good wig can be very expensive, consider taking up a collection for her from friends. Nonprofits like CancerCare and the American Cancer Society provide wigs, prostheses and mastectomy bras to women who can’t afford them. You can also arrange for girlfriends to donate hair to Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love to support the production of quality wigs — and to show her your support.
- Get Pictures Taken
Now might not seem like the best time for a glamour shoot, but before your friend loses her hair, gains or loses weight depending on the drug side-effects, and feels really run down, arrange for a private session with a photographer. Get the family session, but also make sure he takes portraits of her alone. They can be inspirational and empowering for people about to embark on a journey like this.
- Respect Her Care Decisions
While it may be tempting to bombard her with well-meaning advice, offer to share additional or alternate resources only if she wants them. “She may feel very connected to her doctor and interpret this as trying to take that away,” says Ludwig.
- Be a Health Buddy
Cancer patients are overwhelmed by information and emotions caused by endless treatments and doctor appointments. Be her eyes, ears and brain by attending doctors’ appointments or handling time-consuming healthcare and insurance tasks. “Sit with her in the waiting room, join her for a cup of tea right before and be there in appointments to be her CNT or Chief Note Taker,” says Lindsay Avner, founder and CEO of Bright Pink.
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