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How to Be A Support For Someone With Cancer

by Chris Breton, Assistant Director To Life!

Someone recently asked me about ways a family, friend, or community can be supportive of someone going through breast cancer treatment. I thought back to my own breast cancer journey and thought about all the wonderful acts of support and kindness I was on the receiving end of during that time in my life. If you know someone going through breast cancer treatment and are looking for ways to help, below are a few suggestions. This list is not things that I thought of on my own, but are things that others did for me that made my journey a little easier.

1.       Housework. Clean the patient’s house or send a professional cleaning service while the patient is at treatment. It is so wonderful to come home from a long day of chemo to a sparkling clean house. There can be guilt-free resting for the patient because they won’t have to worry about the housework they should be doing.

2.       Food. During my treatment, a group of ladies organized a “food wagon” (as they called it) and took turns cooking and delivering dinner to my home several days a week. Whether you are a household of 1 or 10, not having to worry about “what’s for dinner” is great.  What’s nice about receiving prepared meals is that if the patient is tired, not hungry or not feeling well when the food arrives, it will still be there and ready for whenever they do feel like eating. It doesn’t always take a village to do something like this. One person and one meal can make a difference. And if cooking isn’t your forte’, a gift card for takeout and delivery will also do the trick.

3.       Send a card. I know we live in a world of texting and social media, and a quick text that says, “Hey, how are you doing???” is nice, but if you can, send a card. I still have (18 years later) every single card I received during my breast cancer journey. Every time I received a card in the mail, it made me smile. There’s just something about getting mail. I received all different kinds of cards…speedy recovery, thinking of you, inspirational, and funny ones. You may think it seems inappropriate to send a funny card to someone going through cancer, but sometimes, laughter is the best medicine and I received cards that really did make me laugh. I promise that if you send a card, it will be the right card that arrives at the exact right time.

4.       Car rides and going to treatment. When I was starting chemo, my mom told me that she wanted to go to treatment with me. At first I said “I’ve got this. I’m going to drive myself and do this on my own.” Eventually I came around, and agreed to “let” her come, and she and I would go to my chemo treatments together. I quickly realized how great it was having her drive me and stay with me during treatment, and I’m glad I didn’t stand my ground and “do it on my own”. If I was hungry, she would get me a snack. If I was tired, I would shut my eyes and she would let me be, and go and take a walk or visit with the nurses and the other people in the treatment room. At the end of the day she would drive me home and we would do it all again a couple of weeks later. The point is that sometimes the patient does not always know what they need. I thought I didn’t need someone to take me to chemo but turns out I did, for physical and emotional reasons. So, if the patient says no ride needed, try to offer/insist on driving them to and from treatment, and stay during treatment (even for a little while) if you can. At the end of a treatment day, the patient is going to be tired. Sitting in the Barcalounger while undergoing chemo is exhausting because they are fighting the entire time. The rides and the company you provide will be appreciated by the patient…they just may not know it at first.

5.       Children. If the patient has children, there are many, many, many things that can be done to lend a hand. Babysit when the patient has doctor’s appointments or treatment. Drive their kids to and from sports practice, dance class, school functions, etc. Have the kids over for a playdate. Take them to the mall or the movies, or any fun activity to get their minds off of what’s happening at home. Kids are very resilient but breast cancer affects the entire family, and sometimes kids just need to be kids and do kid stuff and when that happens, it’s a positive thing for everyone.

6.       Listen to the patient. Although I mentioned that sometimes a patient doesn’t realize what’s best for them, most times they do. Listen to them, but also read between the lines. Everyone handles their breast cancer diagnosis, and treatment differently, and each patient has different needs. Give them a safe environment to say what they need to say and feel all of the things that they feeling. If they have a day where they just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over their head and feel sad, or even feel a little sorry for themselves, that’s ok. Let them have that time. It’s all part of the journey.