The doctor gave me the diagnosis I didn’t want to hear. My family and friends were heartbroken. They did their best to offer support but really didn’t know HOW to do that in a practical way. Worse yet – I didn’t know how to help them with that. Honestly, I didn’t even know that I should.
So, what do you do when this happens? Do you just shut down? If you’re like me, you want to run in and help! But how do you do that? What does that look like?
I’ve learned a lot through my own travels with cancer and the treatments that go along with it. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to share what I found to be helpful and a few things that weren’t so helpful. My prayer is that this will equip you when it’s your turn to help someone through this journey.
One thing I noticed when I was first diagnosed was that no one really knew what to say. So, they either said the wrong thing (in their opinion) or they didn’t say anything at all. I have to say that I had a great support system and more support than anyone has a right to, but I have talked to so many other cancer survivors who stated that their friends seemingly disappeared.
There seemed to be a common thread. The people who they thought they could count on, just weren’t there for them. Some even told me that they went through their treatments entirely alone! I want to cry for them.
My point here is that you need to remember that even though you don’t know what to say to someone when they’re diagnosed, they are just as confused and afraid as you are! Well, moreso, really because they not only have to contend with some unexpected and fearful news, but they don’t even have someone to talk to about it.
If you’ve not been personally diagnosed then you won’t understand. Let me just tell you that the friends who visited or called me on a regular basis and didn’t beat around the bush were the ones I enjoyed talking with the most.They asked me questions about my cancer, my treatments, my feelings, my hair loss – you name it! And I LOVED it!
So just be there for your loved one.
I know it’s tempting, but offering advice on something that you’re not personally familiar with really is a bad idea. If you haven’t been personally diagnosed with cancer and gone through the treatments, then you just can’t relate. I had many well meaning friends offer me some horrible advice! Their hearts were in the right place, but honestly, some of the advice I was given was just crazy! The so-called facts you see on social media are rarely correct and should NEVER be told to a cancer patient! I won’t share any of it, but I will tell you what I personally recommend based on my own experience.
No Mani-Pedi’s (and other such advice)
We humans seem to have a desire to rescue our fellow man. It’s a good way to be in my opinion, but we can’t always do that. Sometimes we just don’t have the knowledge. So let me help.
One of my well meaning friends wanted to take me for a pedicure just to get me out and have some fun. Now normally, I’m all for a good pedicure, but what my friend didn’t know is that chemo does a number on your fingernails and toenails. For me, my nails – fingers and toes – were sore and actually painful all of the time. Early on into my chemo, one of my toenails got a black spot and looked to be dying. My oncologist said that I would probably lose it. I didn’t. Nonetheless, it was painful. So mani-pedis are out.
What I did appreciate were the gifts of warmth. You see, when you lose your hair, like I did, you tend to be cold most of the time. So flannel shirts were my friend. One dear friend even brought me her mink stole to borrow for the time being. Warm fuzzy blankets were my friends too.
Meals During Treatments
Bring them meals! Be very sure to ask about food allergies/preferences if you do this one. I had chosen a strict Paleo Diet so my friends who brought food got a quick education on that! They were very considerate and really stuck to my dietary requests. It was very nice.
If you’re thinking of organizing meals for your church to get involved, consider using Take Them A Meal which is a website my daughter found. It was wonderful and easy to use. Your friends who want to bring meals can just go to the website and sign up for the date they can help. Then the recipient can go in and see what’s coming for dinner on specific dates.
First off, let me just say that shopping with a cancer patient on chemo isn’t like other shopping trips. Expect her to need extra time. She will need to pace herself. If you used to shop before her diagnosis and you would spend hours at a stretch, keep in mind that she won’t likely be able to handle that pace now.
Since my own chemo that ended about 15 months ago as of this writing, my stamina still is not what it used to be. I was hopeful that it would return to what it was, but to be honest, I’m just not sure it will. It’s o.k. though. I don’t worry about it. It’s just another change that I’ve have to get used to since my diagnosis. I am grateful to have survived cancer and become a Thriver instead. That doesn’t mean I’ll be running marathons, but still, I consider myself a victor over this thing called cancer!
I think the one thing I craved more than ANYTHING during my treatment phase was just to have someone listen. Not to offer advice or even speak sometimes. Just listen. I realize how uncomfortable silence can be, but I promise you – it’ll be worth it. It may take a little time to learn, just like anything that’s new, but stick with it!
Listening isn’t something that comes easy to most of us, but please let me encourage you to try. I’ve found that by allowing someone else to talk without fear of interruption, they are more likely to really share. Their true feelings are free to be released. As long as your loved one knows they can trust you, and with time, you are likely to see a side you may have otherwise missed.
As he or she opens up, you may get into some nitty gritty stuff that you weren’t even aware of so be prepared! You may also learn things that just might surprise you! A little magic happens when we just learn to listen.
Once you learn to listen, you may find it to be addicting and you may also see that your own wants just aren’t so important anymore. This is healing for you too!
These are just a few practical ideas for you to consider as you help a loved one through her treatments. As you journey down this road, please share with me what you’ve learned about helping someone through this. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I’ll try to get them if I don’t. And perhaps I’ll share your thoughts in a future post!
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