Sunday, April 15, 2018

Tips for Friends and Family of Cancer Patients



Cancer has barged into our lives again, I'm sad to say. Yet another family member has been diagnosed. Understandably, friends and family are concerned. They want to know what's going on and they want to help, but if you haven't been through it, it's hard to know what's helpful. Every person is different and so is every cancer patient. Some people are very private and others share every detail on social media with the world. Having been through cancer treatment myself and now facing chemotherapy with a loved one, there are a few things that come to mind that would be more helpful than others.

Stay Positive. First and foremost, and this is a hard one, try not to overreact. A cancer diagnosis is not an automatic death sentence these days. After the initial shock of my diagnosis, I realized that I didn't want to mope around like I was already dead and I didn't want others to treat me that way. People can live with cancer for a long time. Like all things in life, it's a marathon, not a sprint. The other thing I've realized is doctors don't know everything. I've heard far too many stories of doctors getting life expectancy terribly wrong. Again, every patient is different and nothing is certain. We just have to take it a day at a time and be the best patient we can be. Please stay positive and help your patient friend stay positive too. Humor is a great alternative to gloom and doom.

I also know you want to help with every suggestion you can think of, but these click-bait articles you find on the internet with miracle cures are not helpful. There is so much garbage about cancer out there you can't believe it! Just try to be supportive and let your patient friend decide what kind of care they want in consultation with their doctors. Unless, of course, you are a doctor yourself. Then feel free to pipe up.

Cooking. There's a tendency to want to cook for the patient and their family. At our house, the patient is not eating large, heavy meals right now and my kids aren't crazy about casseroles, so the only one to eat such things is me. I'm afraid, no matter how well intentioned, food will be wasted. What helps more than food itself is gift cards to buy the special foods that the patient can tolerate. When you're sick, you know how you eat, right? Right now we're eating small meals with high protein if possible. Nothing too spicy, sweet, or fatty. A chemo patient may lose their taste for something they've always enjoyed and their tastes can change from day to day. What sounds delicious one day may sound terrible on another day. You can imagine the grocery bill from trying to accomodate all the changes. Drinks like Boost or Ensure are great; be sure to get the highest protein/highest calorie ones you can find. But ask first if the patient even wants those and what flavors they like. Again, gift cards or money may be the best way to help with food.

Visiting. I think visiting a person when they are ill is a great way to support them, but there are several things to keep in mind. You shouldn't visit if you are sick. Chemotherapy patients have weakened immunity to germs of all kinds. Even if you just have a little cold, skip a visit and text instead. Call before you come and make sure the time you want to visit is OK. Call a day or two ahead to give the patient enough time to be ready for your visit. If you were laying around your house in your underwear, you wouldn't want to be surprised by visitors, right? And once you've set a time, try to be on time. You don't need to stay for a long time unless the patient asks you to. Visit length will all depend upon how long a patient feels comfortable and it's up to you to recognize maybe when it's time to go. Probably shorter is better than longer if they aren't up to talking much.

Helping. I've had lots of offers to help around the house and I truly appreciate those offers. At the moment, I don't need a whole lot of help, but it is reassuring to know that I only have to ask if I need help. And I probably will at some point. I'm lucky to have the flexibility in my job to take leave for all the medical appointments we've had and will be having. I can't imagine doing this with a job that didn't have that flexibility. If your friend or family member with cancer needs help with traveling to appointments, by all means, offer to do that if you can. Offer child care or pet care if they need that. If they have no way to clean their house, do laundry or dishes, offer that. More than anything, we want our lives to feel normal. If your household is falling apart around you, that's not a great way to feel normal.

To this day, I think of that movie scene in Oh God! with John Denver and George Burns as God. God has appeared in John Denver's bathroom to tell him he has a plan for him and John Denver is freaking out. God tells him to shave. "Sometimes when you don't feel normal, doing a normal  thing makes you feel normal," God says. Of course, God is right. We need to maintain an even keel and keep things as normal as we can to stay positive. Thinking too far ahead will drive you crazy.



I want to sincerely thank everyone who's reached out and visited and supported us. It makes this a little easier to bear. Our chemo journey is just starting. It will be hard, but we will get through it. If I forget to thank you for a card or a gift, please know that it is appreciated and I love you.

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