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Cancer Support: How to Help a Loved One Through Treatment

Cancer Support: How to Help a Loved One Through Treatment

Cancer Support: How to Help a Loved One Through Treatment

After finding out a friend or family member has been diagnosed with cancer, one of the first things you may think about is how you can help. But you might also be unsure of the best way to do that or afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. Finding the right way to offer cancer support to friends or loved ones starts with asking what you can do to help.

“The best way to support someone going through cancer treatment is to ask questions and really listen to what they need,” said April Arellano, Social Worker at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. “It’s easy to assume what your loved one with cancer needs, but taking the time to listen and respect what they tell you is a great way to offer support.”

Be a Source of Emotional Support

People who have been diagnosed with cancer often describe feeling like they are on an emotional roller coaster. Offer a calm, balanced environment for a loved one with cancer by simply asking “How can I help?” and frequently letting the person know you’re here for them.

Sometimes, the most helpful thing family and friends can do is to listen without offering unsolicited advice or trying to make the person feel better. Letting your loved one share their feelings openly and honestly can be one of the most important things you can do.

It's also helpful to remember that there may be times when a person with cancer doesn’t feel like talking. But that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate your presence. When visiting your loved one, consider bringing a book, needlework, or crossword puzzle, and keep them company while they rest or watch television. When possible, you can arrange to visit your friend at a time that allows the caregiver to get out of the house for a few hours.

However, keep in mind that it’s always best to call before visiting. There will likely be days your loved one doesn’t feel like having company, and it’s important to respect that. Instead, send texts, emails, cards or just make a quick phone call to let the person know you are thinking of them.

Be Patient

You might notice that your loved one’s personality seems different or that they get upset frequently. Be patient with your loved one’s feelings.

“When a person is experiencing treatment, their body reacts differently to the treatment than anything they have experienced before,” Arellano said. “Being patient with their treatment and healing process and understanding that they may not act or feel like they did before treatment started is really important.”

Remember not to take it personally if your loved one acts differently toward you. They are adjusting to a new normal and may be feeling overwhelmed or scared. Allowing the person to go through their emotions without showing judgment can make a positive difference.

Keep It Normal

While there may be times your loved one wants to vent, they will also appreciate having conversations or participating in projects and activities that have nothing to do with cancer. Talking about everyday life, work, and family can help a cancer patient feel more like themselves. When it’s appropriate, you can also laugh together about funny stories or invite your loved one to do a favorite activity, such as going to the movies or visiting a museum. Making plans can also help the person have something to look forward to and take their mind off treatment and its side effects.

The Value of Simple Gifts

Small gifts can make a loved one with cancer smile while also helping provide things they can use.

“Gifts can include things that pass the time during chemo treatment or tools that can help the person get through this time,” Arellano said. “When choosing gifts, remember that self-care is important during treatment and during the healing process as well.”

Gift ideas include:

  • Coloring books
  • Crochet or knitting items
  • Books and other reading materials
  • Gift cards for massages, manicures, hair salons, yoga, and other self-care activities
  • Soft socks, washcloths, towels, or sheets
  • Fun or colorful hats and scarves
  • Comfy pajamas
  • Music downloads or CDs
  • Funny or favorite movies
  • Journal or notebook

Help However You Can

The best gift you can give a friend with cancer can be helping with errands, both for your friend with cancer and their caregiver. This could include volunteering to:

  • Clean the house once a week
  • Pick up prescriptions
  • Take the kids to their activities
  • Go to the grocery store
  • Make meals they can enjoy

If you’re not sure what tasks your friend needs help with, ask before doing them. Daily routines may help someone with cancer take their mind off treatment, so you want to make sure your help doesn’t disrupt their sense of normalcy. If there are many things that need to be done, you can also organize a weekly task list and enlist help from other friends and neighbors.

No matter what, remember that however you are supporting a friend or loved one with cancer, you help improve their quality of life during a difficult time.

Find a provider today at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County to discuss your cancer-related concerns.